Anthropogenic biomes cascade
Across natural networks,
Swarming across this backdrop
With assumed transcendence.
Broken footprints disrupt
Whose buried cycles
Are trampled beneath the topsoil.
Our treads scar the landscape,
While conceited measurements of
Their length, breadth, and tread
Fail to catalogue the
Consequence of each stride.
Other biomes remain unranked
By the wildlife they support,
Serving instead as a
Moving scale of human impact:
Yet even here, in the frozen forests
Of sparse populations
Our proud imprints can be felt;
Revealing the fragmentation
Of habitat that lies exposed
Beneath our feet.
This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that while much of the Earth’s land surface remains relatively wild, it is threatened by anthropogenic fragmentation.
Habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activities is the leading cause for the loss of biodiversity and damage to natural ecosystems. The main response to halting and repairing this damage is through creating protected areas of land, which currently occupy around 15% of the Earth’s land surface. However, it is thought that in order to prevent an ecological disaster, this figure needs to be closer to 50%. In order to assess the difficulties in achieving this figure it is first necessary to assess how much of Earth’s land remains in a natural state.
By creating a map of global human influence at a resolution of 1 km2, this new research has found that 56% of the terrestrial surface (minus permanent ice and snow), currently has low human impact, suggesting that these targets could be met in areas that are minimally impacted by people. However, by comparing these low impact areas to an idealised globe (i.e. one in which there is no human impact), it was found that the land in these areas is heavily fragmented, i.e. there is a subdivision of habitat into smaller and more isolated patches, which can lead to widespread, long-term changes in the composition and function of remaining habitat. When this habitat fragmentation is taken into consideration alongside current figures for habitat loss, this research demonstrates that the world’s biodiversity and natural ecosystems are actually in worse condition than previously reported.
An audio version of this poem can be heard here: