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Last Update:
February 11, 2008

Chapter 14 - Looking at the past - human impact on biogeography.

New books and papers | Websites

Chapter Outline :

    • There are probably very few areas left in the world where there has been no impact from human activity. Modification is greatest where human occupation has been longest;
    • The lack of a baseline record and the amount of modification makes it difficult to define precisely human-induced biogeographical change. Our knowledge of species is highly variable, with lower taxa being the least well known or appreciated;
    • Human impact can be seen to have three aspects: spatial (the area covered by change),
    • Ecological (species composition and genetic characteristics) and temporal (the rate of different changes through time);
    • Human impact has been subject (at least in early times) to the same forces that affect other mammals, e.g. tectonic and oceanic barriers, land bridges and climatic cycles (Ice Ages);
    • The type of change at any one place depends on the culture/society of the people and the available biophysical resources;
    • Research suggests that all societies through time have been able to have considerable impact on species distribution – it is not a modern phenomenon;
    • Today, human impact is so great as to be considered a global-scale force.


New books and papers
Author(s) Title (and link) Comment
Pautasso 2007 Scale dependence of the correlation between human population presence and vertebrate and plant species
Depending on the scale, it's possible to see a correlation between human population and species diversity. The argument is that people settle near areas of high diversity for the benefit this brings.
Luck 2007 The relationships between net primary productivity, human population density
and species conservation
Notes that human population is correlated with net primary productivity suggesting that conservation of high NPP areas might demand limiting human population access.
Larson et al 2007 Phylogeny and ancient DNA of Sus provides insights into neolithic expansion in Island Southeast Asia
and Oceania
Describes a method of tracking human expansion from Africa by using genetic changes in pigs.
Butler et al 2007 Farmland Biodiversity and the Footprint ofAgriculture This study describes a method for calculating the impact of novel agricultral types on biodiversity.
Ellis and Coppins 2007 19th century woodland structure controls stand-scale epiphyte diversity in present-day Scotland The history of woodland stands might be a better predictor of diversity than just size and shape.
Partel et al 2007 Grassland diversity related to the Late Iron Age human population density Modern grass diversity is influenced by both past and current human activity.
Magnani et al 2007 The human footprint in the carbon cycle of temperate and boreal forests Carbon sequestration is currently a hot topic. It's assumed trees can deal with most of the excess carbon dioxide but this study shows it to vary with human impact.
Ripple and Beschta 2007 Restoring Yellowstone’s aspen with wolves. Biological Conservation 2007. One element of the controverisal notion of "re-wilding". Here, the study shows a more usual growth patterns in woodlands following the re-introduction of a top predator.
Gelling, MacDonald and Mathews 2007 Are hedgerows the route to increased farmland small
mammal density? Use of hedgerows in British pastoral
An interesting survey examining the hypotheses under which hedgerows might be seen as useful for conservation. The reuslt supported the notion that linear areas are important for metapopulation conservation.
Johnson, Isaac and Fisher 2006 Rarity of a top predator triggers continent-wide collapse of mammal prey: dingoes and marsupials in Australia Top carnivores control smaller predators. If their numbers decline then this can have a cascading effect on prey species. The huge decline in Australian wildlife since colonisation is shown to be due to persecution of the dingo.
Walker and Preston 2006 Ecological predictors of extinction risk in the flora of lowland England, UK Eutrophication and habitat loss are the main drivers of species loss although pollution and fragmentation might also play a part.
Perry et al 2006 Early maize agriculture and interzonal interaction in southern Peru Outlines work showing that maize usage in the Andes is probably 1000 years earlier than previously thought.
Hurrt et al 2006 The underpinnings of land-use history: three centuries of global gridded land-use transitions, wood-harvest activity, and resulting secondary lands A detailed study using gridded systems demonstrates a more robust method of studying anthropogenic change over centuries.
DeFries and Bounoua 2006 Consequences of land use change for ecosystem services: A future unlike the past New land use change in the tropics could substantialy alter climatic conditions and hence ecosystem services.
Allan et al 2005 Overfishing of Inland Waters Overfishing creates ecological inbalances that are not easily understood. A threatened stock might decline as others rise.
Wing et al 2005 Transient Floral Change and Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary Study of fossil flora suggests changes were rapid and in line with changes predicted under global warming scenarios.
Foley et al 2005 Global Consequences of Land Use Highlights that human action now has a global-scale impact.
Bellamy et al 2005 Carbon losses from all soils across England and Wales 1978–2003 Recent UK studies suggest soil loss as offsetting gains from carbon storage i.e. we can't store as much carbon that way.
Lyons, Smith and Brown. 2004 Of mice, mastodons and men: human-mediated extinctions on four continents Concludes that megafauna extinction in the Pleistocene was probably due to human activity.
Fuller et al 2004 Early plant domestications in southern India: some preliminary archaeobotanical results Argues that the first domestication of crops used local species adding external crops later.
Stuart et al 2004. Pleistocene to Holocene extinction
dynamics in giant deer and woolly
Argues that we need more data to distinguish between human and climate cnetred models of megafauna loss.
Rolett and Diamond 2004 Environmental predictors of pre-European deforestation on Pacific islands Human impact and forest survival depends on a range of variables suggesting that detailed comparative surveys are possible.

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