How humans ruined 97% of most species-rich places on Earth

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As many as 97% of the most species-rich places on the Earth have been seriously altered by humans, according to a new map of the ecological footprint of humankind.

Researchers, including Professor Bill Laurance from James Cook University in Australia, mapped the ecological effect of people on our planet.

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“The most species-rich parts of the planet – especially including the tropical rainforests – have been hit hardest. In total, around 97% of Earth’s biologically richest real estate has been seriously altered by humans,” Laurance said.

The scientists found environmental pressures are widespread, with only a few very remote areas escaping damage.

“Humans are the most voracious consumers planet Earth has ever seen. With our land-use, hunting and other exploitative activities, we are now directly impacting three-quarters of the Earth’s land surface,” said Laurance.

Researchers combined data garnered from unprecedented advances in remote sensing with information collected via surveys on the ground.

They compared data from the first survey in 1993 to the last available information set from 2009.

Laurance said that 71% of global eco-regions saw a marked increase in their human footprints. But he said the news was not all bad.

“While the global human footprint expanded by 9% from 1993 to 2009, it did not increase as fast as the human population – which rose by a quarter – or economic growth – which exploded by over 150% – during the same period,” said Laurance.

He said that wealthy nations and those with strong control of corruption showed some signs of improvement.

“In broad terms, industrial nations and those with lower corruption appear to be doing a better job of slowing the expansion of their human footprint than poorer countries with weak governance.

“But the wealthy countries have a much higher per-capita footprint, so each person there is consuming a lot more than those in poorer nations,” Laurance said.

Laurance said the suitability of lands for agriculture appears to be a major determinant in where ecological pressures appeared around the globe.

“The bottom line is that we need to slow rampant population growth, especially in Africa and parts of Asia, and demand that people in wealthy nations consume less,” he said.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications and Nature Scientific Data.

(With PTI inputs)

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