Anthropogenic transformation of the terrestrial biosphere

Erle C. Ellis


Human populations and their use of land have transformed most of the terrestrial biosphere into anthropogenic biomes (anthromes), causing a variety of novel ecological patterns and processes to emerge. To assess whether human populations and their use of land have directly altered the terrestrial biosphere sufficiently to indicate that the Earth system has entered a new geological epoch, spatially explicit global estimates of human populations and their use of land were analysed across the Holocene for their potential to induce irreversible novel transformation of the terrestrial biosphere. Human alteration of the terrestrial biosphere has been significant for more than 8000 years. However, only in the past century has the majority of the terrestrial biosphere been transformed into intensively used anthromes with predominantly novel anthropogenic ecological processes. At present, even were human populations to decline substantially or use of land become far more efficient, the current global extent, duration, type and intensity of human transformation of ecosystems have already irreversibly altered the terrestrial biosphere at levels sufficient to leave an unambiguous geological record differing substantially from that of the Holocene or any prior epoch. It remains to be seen whether the anthropogenic biosphere will be sustained and continue to evolve.


View Full Text