Human infrastructure as ecological infrastructure for the Anthropocene
Friday, August 9, 2013: 8:00 AM
Aditorium, Rm 1, Minneapolis Convention Center
Most terrestrial ecosystems have now been reshaped by sustained direct interactions with humans. These interactions will likely grow stronger as we move deeper into the Anthropocene. As a consequence, predictive ecological science and effective ecological conservation are no longer possible without understanding how human systems function, interact with, sustain, and transform ecological pattern, process and change locally, regionally, and globally. To advance ecological science and apply it effectively in the Anthropocene, the basic paradigms and operating assumptions of ecology must be reframed to incorporate human systems as permanent infrastructures within which populations, communities and ecosystems are now embedded. The classic view of a world of natural ecosystems recently or temporarily disturbed by humans is no longer relevant: human interactions are unavoidable, permanent and necessary. The anthromes paradigm situates terrestrial ecosystems within the context of anthrome mosaics: the complex, heterogeneous, and multifunctional anthropogenic landscapes into which most of the terrestrial biosphere has now been transformed by human systems. Anthromes represent the ecological infrastructure of the Anthropocene as embedded within the infrastructure of human societies- our farms, forests, settlements, transport systems, economics, cultures and governance now shaping and sustaining the ecology of our planet. In the anthromes paradigm, populations, communities and ecosystems exist within human landscapes that must provide multiple services from built, engineered, domesticated, and managed systems, along with remnant and novel ecosystems that may or may not be intentionally designed or managed to produce them. Anthromes were classified and mapped globally to assess their contemporary and historical patterns and dynamics.
Results/Conclusions: Anthrome maps across the Holocene confirm the ancient and intensive transformation of some ecosystems, especially temperate forests, with more recent and dramatic transformations of grasslands and shrublands, and an accelerating conversion of tropical forests. Recent global trends are generally towards increasingly intensive use of the most optimal lands for agriculture and settlements (ie fertile plains), with significant abandonment of marginal lands allowing ecosystems to recover within and across anthrome mosaics. This is explained partly by the increasing concentration of human populations into cities. As a result, human infrastructure at both local and global scales appears to be restructuring towards more flexible and positive relationships with remnant and novel ecosystems, and for humanity itself. The question remains: how to guide human interactions with ecosystems towards restoring, conserving and sustaining the ecology we desire towards a biosphere that is good for us and our ecological heritage over the long term.