News Release

Anthropogenic transformation of terrestrial nature

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A study examines how humans have reshaped terrestrial nature. Previous studies suggest that destructive anthropogenic reshaping of terrestrial ecosystems has mostly occurred since the Industrial Era began. However, it remains unclear whether humans have been significantly altering nature for millennia. Erle Ellis and colleagues compared global maps of human populations and land use from 10,000 BCE to 2017 CE with maps of current high-biodiversity areas. As early as 12,000 years ago, almost 75% of Earth's terrestrial biosphere was inhabited by human societies. Hunter-gatherer societies and early agricultural societies were among the first to transform wildlands into human biomes. By 2017 CE, anthropogenic land use had reshaped more than 80% of Earth's terrestrial biosphere. Indigenous land, as well as protected, natural, and wild areas, exhibited long histories of anthropogenic use. Historical land reconstructions demonstrated that wildlands covered only 27.5% of Earth's land in 10,000 BCE, which contrasts with prior reconstructions showing that wildlands covered 82% of Earth's land in 6,000 BCE. Most contemporary biodiversity losses were not caused by human use of previously uninhabited ecosystems, but rather by appropriation, colonization, and long-term use of land inhabited by prior societies. The findings suggest that restoring indigenous peoples and local communities to positions of environmental stewardship may be key to conserving biodiversity, according to the authors.


Article #20-23483: "People have shaped most of terrestrial nature for at least 12,000 years," by Erle C. Ellis et al.

MEDIA CONTACT: Erle C. Ellis, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD; tel: 410-350-6843; email: <>

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.