All is not loss: Plant Biodiversity in the Anthropocene

What are we humans doing to biodiversity in the Anthropocene? Causing Earth’s sixth mass extinction? (e.g. Barnosky et al. 2011 and others). How about something completely new to biodiversity on this planet? How about a massive globalization of species leading to the widespread emergence of novel ecosystems enriched with exotic and domesticated species (Hobbs et al. 2009). That’s the main […]

Brave new biosphere

What kind of biosphere do you want? Great question! And great to see it connected with beautiful prize-winning graphics at But on thinking further, it seems clearer than ever that the inspiration behind this- the Planetary Boundaries concept, is going completely in the wrong direction. I had my reservations about the original planetary boundaries work- now these graphics concern […]

The Biosphere we created: 1700 to 2000

“So how did the biosphere become anthropogenic anyway?” asked an astute audience member at my 2007 AGU presentation (powerpoint). I had just given a presentation on my work with Navin Ramankutty demonstrating that human populations and their use of land have reshaped most of the terrestrial biosphere into anthropogenic biomes, or anthromes (Ellis and Ramankutty 2008). Great question! I had […]

An early history of rice

When did rice change the planet? Rice is the most important food crop on earth, feeding more than half of all humans. Most is produced in Asia in the flooded paddy systems that form the core of the most intensively-managed of all ancient agricultural anthromes, the rice villages, where its high productivity in response to sophisticated irrigation schemes and traditional […]

On observing human nature

Ecologists are studying the least human parts of the most human ecosystems and the most human parts of the wildest ecosystems while favoring the Temperate zone over the Tropics (Nature News Article by Zoë Corbyn: “Ecologists shun the urban jungle”). That’s what we’ve learned since Laura Martin, a graduate student at Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources, came to me with […]

Used biosphere for sale (looks good on paper)

Looking for a new view of an old biosphere? Now, you can buy a wall-sized version of our first Anthropogenic Biomes map over at The map includes pictures of different anthromes and is based on the paper “Putting people in the map: Anthropogenic Biomes of the World”. Excellent for classroom use or anywhere else people ponder the planet. (Full […]

China’s villages are changing the world

If you still think of rural China as remote, traditional, and unchanged for millennia, think again. China’s ancient village landscapes are among the most dynamic and densely populated on Earth, with a global extent more than twice that all of Earth’s cities combined (2.5 million km2 vs. ~1 million km2). It should therefore come as no surprise that long-term changes […]

The Nature within now matters most

Should we conserve nature even if it is not wild? Humans have transformed 40% of earth’s ice-free land into crop fields, pastures and settlements, and have embedded another 37% within used and populated landscapes (anthromes). While 23% is still free of people and their use of land, these remaining wildlands are mostly found in the driest and coldest parts of […]

Globalization is good for the biosphere

Finally some good news about global change: globalization is making us cooperate! This is no minor discovery. Poverty, global warming, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss- all of these will only be solved when all of the people of all nations collaborate sustainably in doing so- though all these solutions must ultimately be local as well, because all global problems are […]

What is a human habitat?

by Jonathan Dandois Here is an open question to the group and readers: Is there a typical human habitat, and if so, what does it look like? More than likely, there is a distribution of different habitat types that humans occupy at a global, regional, and even local levels, but perhaps there are some common patterns. I realize that the […]

Our landscapes are reflected in the clouds

When we change our landscapes, we change the clouds above and thereby climate – this from new evidence just published by Jingfeng Wang (Wang et al., 2009) and a team of researchers in Rafael Bras’s climate lab at MIT. By observing cloud patterns and other climate parameters in deforested areas of Brazil, their work demonstrates that local and regional patterns […]

The human jungle

Are pristine rainforests the only ones that matter? We know that forests do change as they age, developing some unique characteristics when mature, and that some species cannot live outside of large swaths of ancient tropical forests. But what about the rest of tropical forests- the younger ones, the forests that people live in or have cut in recent decades […]