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 […]

Naturalism in the Anthropocene

What happens when a talented science writer brings together a diverse group of ecologists and conservationists chasing a new vision of nature? If that writer is Emma Marris, the answer is: Rambunctious Garden– a new book to be released this September 1. Using her great gift for storytelling, Marris tours the reader through the contemporary ecological labyrinth that constitutes “saving […]

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 […]

Getting in touch with your human ecosystem

Do you feel uneasy? Maybe your local ecosystem has taken a turn for the worse. According to ecopsycology, we humans suffer profound discomfort when our habitat feels like it is being degraded. As discussed in an article in this week’s NY times magazine. Ecopsychology proposes that “an imperiled environment creates an imperiled mind”, and an imperiled planet can have the same […]

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 […]

Inconvenient food for thought

“How do we feed a growing world without destroying the planet?” asks Jon Foley’s new 3 minute video (see below). It’s a great question. To get enough food for our existing billions, we already use about 40% of Earth’s ice-free land to produce crops and livestock. And we are using this land more intensively all the time, using up more […]

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 […]

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 […]

Campfires degrade local ecosystems

Humans have been using fire since prehistory- indeed, it is one of our defining characteristics -distinguishing us from all other species. There is little doubt that burning of forests to attract game and later, to clear land for agriculture have had long-term global impacts on climate and the biosphere. There is also much evidence of serious ecological consequences to the […]