Only a mere 5% of Earth’s land surface has been left unaltered by human hands.
Once confined to a small part of Africa, Homo sapiens sapiens (that is to say, us) has spread far and wide across the planet, colonizing practically every nook and cranny of it. In the process, we’ve been wreaking havoc with ecosystems.
In fact, only a mere 5% of Earth’s land surface has been left unaltered by human hands in one way or another, says a team of scientists in the United States. They estimate that as much as 57% of terrestrial biospheres around the planet can now be seen to belong to the critically endangered category because of our impacts on local habitats through agriculture, settlement and mining.
Forests, grasslands and deserts have all been impacted, usually through a combination of numerous forms of human interference, or what the researchers call “anthropogenic stressors.”
“We identified that fewer unmodified lands remain than previously reported and that most of the world is in a state of intermediate modification, with 52% of ecoregions classified as moderately modified,” they write in a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology.
In other words, the situation is dire for most terrestrial wildlife and wildlife habitats worldwide.
“The danger is that a larger percentage of the globe is modified, to some extent, by humans,” Christina Kennedy, a senior scientist at The Nature Conservancy who was an author of the study, noted. “We’re going to see more catastrophic issues regarding climate change, which is exacerbated by development,” she adds. “We’re going to lose a lot of the services which nature provides to people, whether it’s clean water or flood mitigation or pollination services for our global food supply,” Kennedy warns.
Essentially, across most of the planet people have been an invasive species, albeit we tend not to think of ourselves as such. By colonizing land surface areas, we have been transforming most local ecosystems almost unrecognizably from Europe to Africa and from South America to Southeast Asia.
Because of urban sprawl (the growth of cities that have been encroaching on wild areas) many wildlife habitats today occupy areas of land that fall between wild and urban. That is why urban areas should seek to reduce their impacts on nearby or adjacent wildlife habitats, the authors stress.