The Nature within now matters most

450-453-News-Feat-Ragamuffin-Earth-MH-AYShould 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 the earth.

Today there is a great News article in Nature and an associated editorial that investigates both the ecology of these embedded “novel ecosystems” and their value for conservation. I became involved in the article when Emma Marris– the reporter, asked whether I might be able to quantify the global extent of novel ecosystems- on a recommendation from Richard Hobbs– a founding father of restoration ecology and dedicated advocate of conserving nature even when it is not wild.

potential_novel_ecosystemsAs a result, I decided to map out and calculate the areas of ice-free land that were not in use for crops, pastures or urban settlements in year 2000, but were in the vicinity of these used and populated lands (within the same 5 arc minute cells for you geographers). I used Kees Klein-Goldewijk’s HYDE land use and population dataset for this effort. The result was both a map- published in the Nature article, and the estimate of about 35% (37%) of global land not in use, but embedded within agricultural, urban and populated landscapes. Moreover, this inspired me to investigate further down this line as part of our latest work on anthromes (stay tuned for Anthromes 2!).