Tuesday, June 17, 2014
If you are like me, you have a humongous pile short stack of articles that you hope to one day find time to read. Summer is when I get my chance to make a dent in this continuously replenishing tower of fun.
Today, I delved into some 2013 articles by geographer Erle Ellis and was struck by how helpful they are for thinking about land use, particularly in the context of land conservation, working landscapes, and a changing world.
In Sustaining Biodiversity and People in the World's Anthropogenic Biomes, 5 Current Opinion in Env't Sustainability 368 (2013), Ellis introduces me to a new term: anthrome. A foreshortening of anthropogenic biome, anthromes are ecosystems characterized by human involvement. That is, these are landscapes shaped by humans. Building off of Crutzen's idea of the Anthropocene, Ellis explains that 3/4 of the terrestrial biosphere can now be described as anthromes. What is the implication of this? Well that is perhaps harder to pin down. If we are are shaping ecosystems, maybe we have a bigger role to play in ensuring the viability of the systems and protecting biodiversity. When anthromes replace wildlands, perhaps we need to shift some of our conservation efforts to such lands. Ellis' research suggests a promising message: that anthromes may actually still sustain native species and we can increase the benefits of these lands to humans while protecting for biodiversity. Sounds good to me, but sounds like a tough road ahead. This work ties into scholarly discussions of novel ecosystems, something I am finding increasingly helpful for think about land conservation. Novel ecosystems are new types of biomes that have no real precedent or previous corollary and therefore our approach to land conservation (and resiliency) must confront this concept when thinking about what is the world that we want to protect.
In Used Planet: A Global History, 110 PNAS 7978 (2013), Erle joins with a crew of folks from the Global Land Project to discuss patterns of land use change and land use intensification over time. Those land use history buffs among us might find this piece particularly intriguing as the authors describe land-use intensification as "adaptive processes by which human populations systematically adopt increasingly productive land-use technologies." Under this lens, the authors track two different models for global land-use history. Ending with a hopeful note, the authors suggest that the next stage of land use may be one where we become more efficient and may succeed in reversing environmental impacts of prior land use. Thus, both projects end with optimistic thoughts about the future (but calling on us to make tough decisions and do hard work). I look forward to continuing projects from this group.