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Sixteen Years of Change in the Global Terrestrial Human Footprint and Implications for Biodiversity Conservation

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Sixteen Years of Change in the Global Terrestrial Human Footprint and Implications for Biodiversity Conservation

Oscar Venter et al. Nat Commun.

Abstract

Human pressures on the environment are changing spatially and temporally, with profound implications for the planet's biodiversity and human economies. Here we use recently available data on infrastructure, land cover and human access into natural areas to construct a globally standardized measure of the cumulative human footprint on the terrestrial environment at 1 km(2) resolution from 1993 to 2009. We note that while the human population has increased by 23% and the world economy has grown 153%, the human footprint has increased by just 9%. Still, 75% the planet's land surface is experiencing measurable human pressures. Moreover, pressures are perversely intense, widespread and rapidly intensifying in places with high biodiversity. Encouragingly, we discover decreases in environmental pressures in the wealthiest countries and those with strong control of corruption. Clearly the human footprint on Earth is changing, yet there are still opportunities for conservation gains.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1. Maps showing the current state and recent change in the global human footprint.
(a) The global human footprint map for 2009 using a 0–50 cool to hot colour scale, and (b) absolute change in average human footprint from 1993 to 2009 at the ecoregion scale. Data on human footprint change are summarized by ecoregions to allow for interpretation of broad patterns. Inset panels in b show focal regions that span the full breadth of the human footprint pressure scale.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Human footprint change summarized by terrestrial ecoregions.
Histogram shows per cent change in average human footprint scores for the world's 823 non-Antarctic ecoregions.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Relationships between the human footprint and suitability of land for agriculture.
The suitability of land and its relationship to (a) the mean and s.d. of the human footprint in 2009, (b) the spatial extent of five human footprint bins and (c) the mean change and s.d. in the human footprint. The thresholds that define the five human footprint bins in b are set such that each bin covers a similar proportion of the world's land areas in 2009, with higher pressure bins represented by warmer colours.
Figure 4
Figure 4. The extent of the human footprint within important areas for biodiversity.
The distribution of human footprint intensity bins across (a) biodiversity hotspots, (b) high concentrations of threatened vertebrates and (c) high concentrations of all vertebrates. High concentrations are the 10% of land areas encompassing the highest global concentrations of either threatened vertebrates or all vertebrates. Green represents areas with a human footprint score of 0, and warmer colours represent higher-pressure bins.
Figure 5
Figure 5. Change in human footprint within important areas for biodiversity.
The extent of human footprint intensity bins across (a) biodiversity hotspots, (b) high concentrations of threatened vertebrates and (c) high concentrations of all vertebrates for 1993 (blue lines) and 2009 (red lines).
Figure 6
Figure 6. Change in human footprint across countries grouped by income level.
Average change in the human footprint over the 1993 to 2009 period for low-income (LI, n=36), lower-middle-income (LMI, n=42), upper-middle-income (UMI, n=44) and high-income (HI, n=51) countries. The horizontal red bar below the HI column shows the average change for the wealthiest countries (n=24), defined as those with >$30,000 per person GDP at PPP in 2009. Black bars show standard errors and coloured asterisks denote statistical differences.

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