What’s Your Anthrome? or “If you Can’t Save Them, Name Them After Yourself”

North America Anthromes

Humanity has greater impact on global environment than “natural” forces

Say goodbye to those old cliche, “pristine” environmental biomes embraced by our misguided ecology brethren of yesteryear, and instead embrace a brand new set of anthropogenic biomes – anthromes, if you will:

Anthrome Legend

Researchers from McGill and Baltimore have provided (subscription required), “…the first characterization of terrestrial biomes based on global patterns of sustained, direct human interaction with ecosystems…” and argue, “Ecologists pay too much attention to increasingly rare “pristine” ecosystems while ignoring the overwhelming influence of humans on the environment.”

“Our analysis was quite surprising,” said Ramankutty. “Only about 20% of the world’s ice-free land-surface is pristine. The rest has some kind of anthropogenic influence, so if you’re studying a pristine landscape, you’re really only studying about 20% of the world.”

“If you want to think about going into a sustainable future and restoring ecosystems, we have to accept that humans are here to stay. Humans are part of the package, and any restoration has to include human activities in it.”

I think the following summarizes everything:

This new model of the biosphere moves us away from an outdated view of the world as “natural ecosystems with humans disturbing them” and towards a vision of “human systems with natural ecosystems embedded within them”.

Ultimately, although ecologists and environmentalists might scream bloody murder and various other profanities, I think the authors are suggesting an incredibly pragmatic change to ecological science and environmentalist discourse. I grew up thinking it was “us and them”, “us” referring to the “human intruders on planet Earth”, while “them” was of course the natural environment. However, this anthropocentric view is one that has pervaded most of the global warming naysayers on account that, “Humankind could NEVER change the Earth – our impacts aren’t that prevalent, nor are we unnatural ourselves.” Of course, this is ludicrous – just take a look at these stats:

75% of Earth’s ice-free land showed evidence of alteration as a result of human residence and land use, with less than a quarter remaining as wildlands, supporting just 11% of terrestrial net primary production

I’d love to hear the thoughts of Terry readers on this potential shift in the way scientists address “us and them” from now on. Although the idea is appetizing, I wonder if this might hinder conservation efforts. If human socioeconomical factors become a larger player in policy making, then ultimately conservation will suffer since the “old biome” isn’t the sole player anymore (which is unfortunate, considering human influence in the first place is historically a prerequisite for conservation efforts).

Comment away!

Quick Review: You can Google-map the world’s biomes (to a rough resolution) here, read the press release here, read the original article here (subscription required), and check out the Encyclopedia of Earth entry here.

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: davidsemeniuk.com

2 Responses to “What’s Your Anthrome? or “If you Can’t Save Them, Name Them After Yourself””

  1. Erle Ellis

    Hi Dave,
    Nice discussion of Anthropogenic Biomes!

    Actually, your cautionary note echoes comments made by others about whether the anthrome concept will cause devaluation of nature conservation- not our intention?

    We address this in detail at the EarthForum in our post entitled:
    ?Conserving Nature in an Anthropogenic Biosphere?
    http://www.earthportal.org/forum/?p=410

    We?d love to see your further comments on this!
    Erle and Navin

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