Strolling through ‘anthromes

12 Jan

You can find a new map of the biosphere recently released by ecologists here. The map is based on global patterns of ecosystem form and process created by humans (further information in the ESA-Weblog here):

Global data from satellites and land management statistics were used to map a new system of ‘anthropogenic biomes’, ‘anthromes’, or ‘human biomes’ that describe the biosphere as it exists today, the result of human reshaping of ecosystems. […] While not a replacement for existing biome systems based on vegetation and climate, anthropogenic biomes offer a new view of the terrestrial biosphere based on the irreversible coupling of human and ecological systems at global scale. This new model of the biosphere moves us away from an outdated view of the world as ‘natural ecosystems with humans disturbing them’ and towards a vision of ‘human systems with natural ecosystems embedded within them’.”

In an earlier post in this weblog (here) I have described the majority of human-altered ecosystems as the greyish-blue world in contrast and as a supplement to the conventional biomes (e.g. tropical rainforests or grasslands). Conventional biomes are based on vegetation structures related to climate (or fire and herbivores) – the so-called green world and black or brown world.

How to characterize anthropogenic biomes?
Erle Ellis and Navin Ramankutty (the authors of the map) explain here: “

Anthropogenic biomes are not simple vegetation categories, and are best characterized as heterogeneous landscape mosaics combining a variety of different land uses and land covers. Urban areas are embedded within agricultural land, trees are interspersed with croplands and housing, and managed vegetation is mixed with semi-natural vegetation (e.g. croplands are embedded within rangelands and forests).

This map is essential because of the long history of human alteration of natural ecosystems and the sustained interaction between humans and the ecosphere. Through agriculture, urbanization, and other land uses humans have fundamentally altered global patterns of ecosystem form, process, and biodiversity. The map of anthropogenic biomes or anthromes provide a “contemporary view of the terrestrial biosphere in its human-altered form”. The map illustrates that humans are a factor rivaling climate, geology and other ecofactors in shaping the terrestrial biosphere and its processes. “As a result, the vegetation forms predicted by conventional biome systems are now rarely observed across large areas of Earth’s land surface.” The data underlying the map demonstrate that less than 20% of Earth’s ice-free land is wild, and only 20% of this is forests; more than 36% is barren, such that Earth’s remaining wildlands account for only about 10% of global net primary production.

I have to think about if this post is really compatible in the category ‘Biogeography‘; perhaps I should create ‘Anthropogeography‘. Furthermore, for our primary purpose of conceptualizing strolling through rather small regions, the map is obviously not very useful. But taking the step to virtual flaneurism, this new look on earth is very inspiring and perhaps dramatically capable of challenging our view on regional cultural landscapes.

Ellis, E. & N. Ramankutty (2008): “Anthropogenic biomes.” In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). Internet:

See also:
Ellis, E. C. & N. Ramankutty (2008): Putting people in the map: anthropogenic biomes of the world. In: Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 6, DOI: 10.1890/070062; available online here.

Ellis, E.: Conserving Nature in an Anthropogenic Biosphere. – November 30th, 2007 in EarthForum

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3 Antworten zu “Strolling through ‘anthromes‘”

  1. mawerner Januar 12, 2008 um 4:20 nachmittags #

    In the Resilience Science-Blog you can find another very interesting and informative article about the new map of anthropogenic biomes (see here:

  2. mawerner Februar 21, 2008 um 11:12 vormittags #

    Biogeographers are carefully looking at the human ecological footprint, because the ever increasing impact is able to erode the fact that past evolutionary and ecological processes are still evident in the extant distibutions of species. But Brendan G. Mackey is scared: “However, given the ever increasing impact of the human ecological footprint – habitat loss and degradation, species extinctions and population extirpations, artificially introduced species, invasive species, biotoxins, the impoundment and diversion of water, altered fire regimes, human-forced climate change – we must wonder how much longer it will be before the natural origins of plant and animal distributions become a muddy and indecipherable blur. In many bioregions, the characteristic flora and fauna are being homogenized as humans promote the distribution of certain species – by choice or accident – and remove natural barriers to some gene flows” (Boundaries, data and conservation, in: Journal of Biogeography 35, 392-393). In a world of anthromes, biogeography would’nt be the same, as before. It would be hardly possible to do countryside biogeography at least. Perhaps island biogeography is so popular in the public sphere, because it seems a proper reflection of realities. But even the insular character of nearly-nature in an anthromized world, sounds too nostalgic. What we call the natural world is adjusting to the image of a ZOO.

  3. mawerner November 3, 2010 um 9:36 vormittags #

    More literature on ‘anthromes’:

    Alessa, L. & F. Stuart Chapin III (2008): Anthropogenic biomes: a key contribution to earth-system science. In: trends in Ecology and Evolution23 (10), 529-531

    Ellis, E. C.; K. K. Goldewijk; S. Siebert; D. Lightman & N. Ramankutty (2010): Anthropogenic transformation of the biomes, 1700 to 2000. In: Global Ecology and Biogeogrpahy 19, 589-606.

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