Any ecology student could tell you what biomes are: vegetation types, such as grasslands and tropical rainforests, that ecologists use to map the planet. But there’s a problem. Biomes exist only at the discretion of nearly 7 billion people trying to live their lives on a crowded planet.
Invert that ancient image of invasive humans chopping away at the edges of a pristine nature. The era has long since moved from the Holocene to the Anthropocene. Nature is now embedded within a matrix of human-altered croplands, pastures, towns and cities. These anthropogenic biomes — “anthromes” for short — offer a fresh way of seeing our planetary pastiche.
By combining data on land cover, land use and population density, researchers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and McGill University visually captured 21 anthromes, ranging from urban settlements and irrigated villages to remote deserts and other barren lands. Using these data, we’ve zoomed into particular anthromes in seven countries, spanning six different continents, to show how human and natural landscapes have become one.
A version of this image gallery originally appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Momentum magazine, Ensia’s predecessor.