Look for someplace untouched by human hands, where the ifluence of Homo sapiens has yet to be felt?
Well, good luck with that.
There’s no pristine environment devoid of human pacts anywhere on earth, according to a new study from researchers from across the globe.
From Oxford University:
An exhaustive review of archaeological data from the last 30 years details how the world’s landscapes have been shaped by repeated human activity over many thousands of years. It reveals a pattern of significant, long-term, human influence on the distribution of species across all of the earth’s major occupied continents and islands.
The paper by lead author Dr Nicole Boivin from Oxford and Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, with researchers from the UK, US, and Australia, suggests that archaeological evidence has been missing from current debates about conservation priorities. To say that societies before the Industrial Revolution had little effect on the environment or diversity of species is mistaken, argues the paper. It draws on new datasets using ancient DNA, stable isotopes, and microfossils, as well as the application of new statistical and computational methods. It shows that many living species of plants, trees and animals that thrive today are those that were favoured by our ancestors; and that large-scale extinctions started thousands of years ago due to overhunting or change of land use by humans. The paper concludes that in light of this and other evidence of long-term anthropogenic change, we need to be more pragmatic in our conservation efforts rather than aiming for impossible ‘natural’ states.
The paper identifies four major phases when humans shaped the world around them with broad effects on natural ecosystems: global human expansion during the Late Pleistocene; the Neolithic spread of agriculture; the era of humans colonising islands; and the emergence of early urbanised societies and trade.
It draws on fossil evidence showing Homo sapiens was present in East Africa around 195,000 years ago and that our species had dispersed to the far corners of Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas by 12,000 years ago. This increase in global human populations is linked with a variety of species extinctions, one of the most significant being the reduction by around two-thirds of 150 species of ‘megafauna’ or big beasts between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, says the paper, with their disappearance having ‘dramatic effects’ on the structure of the ecosystem and seed dispersal.
The second phase, the advent of agriculture worldwide, placed new evolutionary pressures on plants and animals that had ‘unprecedented and enduring’ effects on the distribution of species, according to the paper. The data highlighted shows that domesticated sheep, goats and cattle were first in the Near East 10,500 years ago, and arrived in Europe, Africa and South Asia within a few millennia. Chickens, originally domesticated in East Asia, reached Britain by the second half of the last millennium and now outnumber people by more than three to one globally, says the paper. Meanwhile, it also highlights research showing that the domestication of dogs happened before the emergence of agricultural societies, with around 700 million to one billion dogs in the world today. By contrast with domesticated animals, the percentage of truly wild vertebrates left today as a result of these long-term processes is described as ‘vanishingly small’.
There’s more, after the jump. . .