By Amelia Heathman via WIRED
A new map of the ecological footprint of humans shows that 97 per cent of the most species-rich places on Earth have been seriously altered in the past 20 years.
Researchers combined data from 1993 to 2009, gathered from advances in remote sensing with information collected via surveys on the ground, to analyse the impacts we're having on the planet.
From this, a staggering 71 per cent of global ecoregions showed a marked increase in human footprints.
“The most species-rich parts of the planet – especially including the tropical rainforests have been hit hardest. In total, around 97 per cent of Earth’s biologically richest real estate has been seriously altered by humans,” said Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University, one of the researchers involved in the study.
“With our land-use, hunting and other exploitative activities, we are now directly impacting three-quarters of the Earth’s land surface,” he added.
The study, which was published in Nature Communications, demonstrates the ecological effect of people on earth. Environmental pressures are widespread, with only a few areas escaping the damage.
Factors that were deemed to contribute to the human footprint included: built environments, crop lands, population density, major roadways and night lights.
It was shown that pressure has more than doubled in 20 ecoregions globally, including across most forest ecoregions in New Guinea and in selected tropical rainforests such as the Japura-Solimoes-Negro moist forests in the Amazon basin, demonstrating the decline of the wilderness over the study period.
However, it wasn’t all negative. The study made the point that in general, areas such as the Amazon basin portray a more encouraging picture. For example, although the Amazon is becoming more encroached by settlements and agriculture, much of the Amazon is still free from human pressure.
In addition, while the global human footprint expanded by nine per cent from 1993 to 2009, it didn’t increase as fast as the human population, which rose by 25 per cent.
Laurance and the team also found that industrial nations are making an effort to slow down the human effect.
“In broad terms, industrial nations and those with lower corruption appear to be doing a better job of slowing the expansion of their human footprint than poorer countries with weak governance. But the wealthy countries have a much higher per-capita footprint so each person there is consuming a lot more than those in poorer nations,” said Laurance.
The suitability of lands for farming appear to be a major factor in where ecological pressures appear around the globe. Laurance said there needs to be a global effort to slow down population growth in Africa and parts of Asia, and ensure that people in wealthy countries consume less in order to ease the pressures on the world.
Farming was recently established as one of the most significant threats facing endangered animal species around the world. Researchers found that three-quarters of the world's threatened species are at risk because people are converting their habitats into agricultural land.