Health Blog

A Good Reason To Be Self Centered

December 27, 2007

Scientists have presented a new way of viewing the world based on the assumption that humans are here to stay. The central piece of their “anthropogenic” map is the human element, a twist on the accepted ecosystem cartography. Proposed in the November 19 Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, it divides the world into human-influenced areas such as croplands and dense settlements, as opposed to the biomes currently used in textbooks, like desert and grassland.

The redefined ecosystems represent a radical approach that moves toward more accurate modeling for ecological studies and education, lead author Erle Ellis of the University of Maryland, said via email. He and his research partner, Navin Ramankutty of McGill University, see the model as inspiring responsibility for ecosystems or, as Ramankutty put it in an audio interview, a chance for stewardship.

Conservation ecologists critical of the project, said Ellis, are concerned that “encouraging people to view nature as being embedded within human ecosystems would provide ammunition to those who wish to exploit or degrade ecosystems for their own purposes.” But for Ellis, the idea means new global models, revised textbooks, and inspired scientific investigations.

Our own backyards, and other familiar lands, now comprise about 80 percent of Earth’s ice-free land surface. The researchers say scientists must be realistic by focusing on human activities in these areas instead of the pristine wilderness we all associate with the natural world. We’ve made our impact, and at this point, it’s impossible to ignore.

For more about our impact on the natural world check out Scienceline’s Climate Change Series


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Erle Ellis says:

I think your interpretation of our work is right on the money, with one exception- our work
recommends that we focus more on the ecology of managed lands, but not to the exclusion of pristine ecosystems. If anything, our analysis demonstrates the rarity and therefore greater value, of Earth’s remaining pristing ecosystems.

My coauthor and I discuss this in our post at the EarthForum (link above): “Conserving Nature in an Anthropogenic Biosphere”

Erle Ellis says:

For those interested, there is also a Discovery Channel video on our work at:

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