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Human Domination of Earth’s Ecosystems

Peter M. Vitousek, Harold A. Mooney, Jane Lubchenco, Jerry M. Melillo

Human alteration of Earth is substantial and growing. Between one-third and one-half interact with the atmosphere, with aquatic
of the land surface has been transformed by human action; the carbon dioxide con- systems, and with surrounding land. More-
centration in the atmosphere has increased by nearly 30 percent since the beginning of over, land transformation interacts strongly
the Industrial Revolution; more atmospheric nitrogen is fixed by humanity than by all with most other components of global en-
natural terrestrial sources combined; more than half of all accessible surface fresh water vironmental change.
is put to use by humanity; and about one-quarter of the bird species on Earth have been The measurement of land transforma-
driven to extinction. By these and other standards, it is clear that we live on a human- tion on a global scale is challenging; chang-
dominated planet. es can be measured more or less straightfor-
wardly at a given site, but it is difficult to
aggregate these changes regionally and glo-
bally. In contrast to analyses of human al-
All organisms modify their environment, reasonably well quantified; all are ongoing. teration of the global carbon cycle, we
and humans are no exception. As the hu- These relatively well-documented changes cannot install instruments on a tropical
man population has grown and the power of in turn entrain further alterations to the mountain to collect evidence of land trans-
technology has expanded, the scope and functioning of the Earth system, most no- formation. Remote sensing is a most useful
nature of this modification has changed tably by driving global climatic change (1) technique, but only recently has there been
drastically. Until recently, the term “hu- and causing irreversible losses of biological a serious scientific effort to use high-resolu-
man-dominated ecosystems” would have diversity (2). tion civilian satellite imagery to evaluate
elicited images of agricultural fields, pas- even the more visible forms of land trans-

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tures, or urban landscapes; now it applies Land Transformation formation, such as deforestation, on conti-
with greater or lesser force to all of Earth. nental to global scales (3).
Many ecosystems are dominated directly by The use of land to yield goods and services Land transformation encompasses a
humanity, and no ecosystem on Earth’s sur- represents the most substantial human al- wide variety of activities that vary sub-
face is free of pervasive human influence. teration of the Earth system. Human use of stantially in their intensity and conse-
This article provides an overview of hu- land alters the structure and functioning of quences. At one extreme, 10 to 15% of
man effects on Earth’s ecosystems. It is not ecosystems, and it alters how ecosystems Earth’s land surface is occupied by row-
intended as a litany of environmental disas-
ters, though some disastrous situations are
described; nor is it intended either to down- Fig. 1. A conceptual
play or to celebrate environmental success- model illustrating hu-
manity’s direct and indi-
es, of which there have been many. Rather,
rect effects on the Earth
we explore how large humanity looms as a system [modified from
presence on the globe— how, even on the (56)].
grandest scale, most aspects of the structure
and functioning of Earth’s ecosystems can-
not be understood without accounting for
the strong, often dominant influence of
We view human alterations to the Earth
system as operating through the interacting
processes summarized in Fig. 1. The growth
of the human population, and growth in the
resource base used by humanity, is main-
tained by a suite of human enterprises such
as agriculture, industry, fishing, and inter-
national commerce. These enterprises
transform the land surface (through crop-
ping, forestry, and urbanization), alter the
major biogeochemical cycles, and add or
remove species and genetically distinct pop-
ulations in most of Earth’s ecosystems.
Many of these changes are substantial and

P. M. Vitousek and H. A. Mooney are in the Department

of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
94305, USA. J. Lubchenco is in the Department of Zool-
ogy, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331,
USA. J. M. Melillo is at the U.S. Office of Science and
Technology Policy, Old Executive Office Building, Room
443, Washington, DC 20502, USA.

494 SCIENCE z VOL. 277 z 25 JULY 1997 z

crop agriculture or by urban-industrial ar- the reactive chemistry of the troposphere, tion grows to more than 25% for upwelling
eas, and another 6 to 8% has been con- bringing elevated carbon monoxide con- areas and to 35% for temperate continen-
verted to pastureland (4); these systems centrations and episodes of urban-like tal shelf systems (13).
are wholly changed by human activity. At photochemical air pollution to remote Many of the fisheries that capture ma-
the other extreme, every terrestrial ecosys- tropical areas of Africa and South Amer- rine productivity are focused on top pred-
tem is affected by increased atmospheric ica; and it causes runoff of sediment and ators, whose removal can alter marine eco-
carbon dioxide (CO2), and most ecosys- nutrients that drive substantial changes in systems out of proportion to their abun-
tems have a history of hunting and other stream, lake, estuarine, and coral reef eco- dance. Moreover, many such fisheries
low-intensity resource extraction. Be- systems (7–10). have proved to be unsustainable, at least
tween these extremes lie grassland and The central importance of land trans- at our present level of knowledge and
semiarid ecosystems that are grazed (and formation is well recognized within the control. As of 1995, 22% of recognized
sometimes degraded) by domestic animals, community of researchers concerned with marine fisheries were overexploited or al-
and forests and woodlands from which global environmental change. Several re- ready depleted, and 44% more were at
wood products have been harvested; to- search programs are focused on aspects of their limit of exploitation (14) (Figs. 2
gether, these represent the majority of it (9, 11); recent and substantial progress and 3). The consequences of fisheries are
Earth’s vegetated surface. toward understanding these aspects has not restricted to their target organisms;
The variety of human effects on land been made (3), and much more progress commercial marine fisheries around the
makes any attempt to summarize land trans- can be anticipated. Understanding land world discard 27 million tons of nontarget
formations globally a matter of semantics as transformation is a difficult challenge; it animals annually, a quantity nearly one-
well as substantial uncertainty. Estimates of requires integrating the social, economic, third as large as total landings (15). More-
the fraction of land transformed or degraded and cultural causes of land transformation over, the dredges and trawls used in some
by humanity (or its corollary, the fraction of with evaluations of its biophysical nature fisheries damage habitats substantially as
the land’s biological production that is used and consequences. This interdisciplinary they are dragged along the sea floor.
or dominated) fall in the range of 39 to 50% approach is essential to predicting the A recent increase in the frequency,
(5) (Fig. 2). These numbers have large un- course, and to any hope of affecting the extent, and duration of harmful algal
certainties, but the fact that they are large is consequences, of human-caused land blooms in coastal areas (16) suggests that
not at all uncertain. Moreover, if anything transformation. human activity has affected the base as
these estimates understate the global im- well as the top of marine food chains.
pact of land transformation, in that land Oceans Harmful algal blooms are sudden increases
that has not been transformed often has in the abundance of marine phytoplank-
been divided into fragments by human al- Human alterations of marine ecosystems ton that produce harmful structures or
teration of the surrounding areas. This frag- are more difficult to quantify than those of chemicals. Some but not all of these phy-
mentation affects the species composition terrestrial ecosystems, but several kinds of toplankton are strongly pigmented (red or
and functioning of otherwise little modified information suggest that they are substan- brown tides). Algal blooms usually are
ecosystems (6). tial. The human population is concentrat- correlated with changes in temperature,
Overall, land transformation represents ed near coasts—about 60% within 100 nutrients, or salinity; nutrients in coastal
the primary driving force in the loss of km—and the oceans’ productive coastal waters, in particular, are much modified by
biological diversity worldwide. Moreover, margins have been affected strongly by human activity. Algal blooms can cause
the effects of land transformation extend humanity. Coastal wetlands that mediate extensive fish kills through toxins and by
far beyond the boundaries of transformed interactions between land and sea have causing anoxia; they also lead to paralytic
lands. Land transformation can affect cli- been altered over large areas; for example, shellfish poisoning and amnesic shellfish
mate directly at local and even regional approximately 50% of mangrove ecosys- poisoning in humans. Although the exis-
scales. It contributes ;20% to current tems globally have been transformed or tence of harmful algal blooms has long
anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and more destroyed by human activity (12). More- been recognized, they have spread widely
substantially to the increasing concentra- over, a recent analysis suggested that al- in the past two decades (16).
tions of the greenhouse gases methane and though humans use about 8% of the pri-
nitrous oxide; fires associated with it alter mary production of the oceans, that frac-
Phase IV-
Fig. 2. Human domi- Senescent
Resources (%)

nance or alteration of
several major compo- 60 Phase III-
nents of the Earth sys- Mature
tem, expressed as (from 40
left to right) percentage 20 Phase I- Phase II-
of the land surface trans- Undeveloped Developing
formed (5); percentage 0








of the current atmo-

spheric CO2 concentra-
tion that results from hu-
man action (17 ); per- Fig. 3. Percentage of major world marine fish
centage of accessible resources in different phases of development,
surface fresh water used (20); percentage of terrestrial N fixation that is human-caused (28); percentage 1951 to 1994 [from (57 )]. Undeveloped 5 a low
of plant species in Canada that humanity has introduced from elsewhere (48); percentage of bird and relatively constant level of catches; develop-
species on Earth that have become extinct in the past two millennia, almost all of them as a conse- ing 5 rapidly increasing catches; mature 5 a high
quence of human activity (42); and percentage of major marine fisheries that are fully exploited, and plateauing level of catches; senescent 5
overexploited, or depleted (14). catches declining from higher levels. z SCIENCE z VOL. 277 z 25 JULY 1997 495

Alterations of the There is no doubt that this increase has sometimes contention.
Biogeochemical Cycles been driven by human activity, today pri- The human-caused increase in atmo-
marily by fossil fuel combustion. The sourc- spheric CO2 already represents nearly a
Carbon. Life on Earth is based on carbon, es of CO2 can be traced isotopically; before 30% change relative to the pre-industrial
and the CO2 in the atmosphere is the pri- the period of extensive nuclear testing in era (Fig. 2), and CO2 will continue to in-
mary resource for photosynthesis. Humanity the atmosphere, carbon depleted in 14C was crease for the foreseeable future. Increased
adds CO2 to the atmosphere by mining and a specific tracer of CO2 derived from fossil CO2 represents the most important human
burning fossil fuels, the residue of life from fuel combustion, whereas carbon depleted enhancement to the greenhouse effect; the
the distant past, and by converting forests in 13C characterized CO2 from both fossil consensus of the climate research commu-
and grasslands to agricultural and other fuels and land transformation. Direct mea- nity is that it probably already affects cli-
low-biomass ecosystems. The net result of surements in the atmosphere, and analyses mate detectably and will drive substantial
both activities is that organic carbon from of carbon isotopes in tree rings, show that climate change in the next century (1). The
rocks, organisms, and soils is released into both 13C and 14C in CO2 were diluted in direct effects of increased CO2 on plants
the atmosphere as CO2. the atmosphere relative to 12C as the CO2 and ecosystems may be even more impor-
The modern increase in CO2 represents concentration in the atmosphere increased. tant. The growth of most plants is enhanced
the clearest and best documented signal of Fossil fuel combustion now adds 5.5 6 by elevated CO2, but to very different ex-
human alteration of the Earth system. 0.5 billion metric tons of CO2-C to the tents; the tissue chemistry of plants that
Thanks to the foresight of Roger Revelle, atmosphere annually, mostly in economi- respond to CO2 is altered in ways that
Charles Keeling, and others who initiated cally developed regions of the temperate decrease food quality for animals and mi-
careful and systematic measurements of at- zone (18) (Fig. 4). The annual accumula- crobes; and the water use efficiency of
mospheric CO2 in 1957 and sustained them tion of CO2-C has averaged 3.2 6 0.2 plants and ecosystems generally is in-
through budget crises and changes in scien- billion metric tons recently (17). The oth- creased. The fact that increased CO2 affects
tific fashions, we have observed the con- er major terms in the atmospheric carbon species differentially means that it is likely
centration of CO2 as it has increased steadi- balance are net ocean-atmosphere flux, to drive substantial changes in the species
ly from 315 ppm to 362 ppm. Analysis of air net release of carbon during land transfor- composition and dynamics of all terrestrial
bubbles extracted from the Antarctic and mation, and net storage in terrestrial bio- ecosystems (19).
Greenland ice caps extends the record back mass and soil organic matter. All of these Water. Water is essential to all life. Its
much further; the CO2 concentration was terms are smaller and less certain than movement by gravity, and through evapora-
more or less stable near 280 ppm for thou- fossil fuel combustion or annual atmo- tion and condensation, contributes to driv-
sands of years until about 1800, and has spheric accumulation; they represent rich ing Earth’s biogeochemical cycles and to
increased exponentially since then (17). areas of current research, analysis, and controlling its climate. Very little of the







180° 120°W 60°W 0° 60°E 120°E 180°

50 100 150 200 250 300 350 400 450

Emissions (g m-2 year-1)

Fig. 4. Geographical distribution of fossil fuel sources of CO2 as of 1990. The global mean is 12.2 g m22 year21; most emissions occur in economically
developed regions of the north temperate zone. EQ, equator; NP, North Pole; SP, South Pole. [Prepared by A. S. Denning, from information in (18)]

496 SCIENCE z VOL. 277 z 25 JULY 1997 z

water on Earth is directly usable by humans; tion regionally (7, 26). ecosystems, usually it also decreases their
most is either saline or frozen. Globally, hu- Conflicts arising from the global use of biological diversity (33).
manity now uses more than half of the runoff water will be exacerbated in the years Human-fixed N also can move from ag-
water that is fresh and reasonably accessible, ahead, with a growing human population riculture, from sewage systems, and from
with about 70% of this use in agriculture and with the stresses that global changes N-saturated terrestrial systems to streams,
(20) (Fig. 2). To meet increasing demands will impose on water quality and availabil- rivers, groundwater, and ultimately the
for the limited supply of fresh water, human- ity. Of all of the environmental security oceans. Fluxes of N through streams and
ity has extensively altered river systems issues facing nations, an adequate supply of rivers have increased markedly as human
through diversions and impoundments. In clean water will be the most important. alteration of the N cycle has accelerated;
the United States only 2% of the rivers run Nitrogen. Nitrogen (N) is unique among river nitrate is highly correlated with the
unimpeded, and by the end of this century the major elements required for life, in that human population of river basins and with
the flow of about two-thirds of all of Earth’s its cycle includes a vast atmospheric reser- the sum of human-caused N inputs to those
rivers will be regulated (21). At present, as voir (N2) that must be fixed (combined basins (8). Increases in river N drive the
much as 6% of Earth’s river runoff is evapo- with carbon, hydrogen, or oxygen) before it eutrophication of most estuaries, causing
rated as a consequence of human manipula- can be used by most organisms. The supply blooms of nuisance and even toxic algae,
tions (22). Major rivers, including the Col- of this fixed N controls (at least in part) the and threatening the sustainability of marine
orado, the Nile, and the Ganges, are used so productivity, carbon storage, and species fisheries (16, 34).
extensively that little water reaches the sea. composition of many ecosystems. Before the Other cycles. The cycles of carbon, water,
Massive inland water bodies, including the extensive human alteration of the N cycle, and nitrogen are not alone in being altered
Aral Sea and Lake Chad, have been greatly 90 to 130 million metric tons of N (Tg N) by human activity. Humanity is also the
reduced in extent by water diversions for were fixed biologically on land each year; largest source of oxidized sulfur gases in the
agriculture. Reduction in the volume of the rates of biological fixation in marine sys- atmosphere; these affect regional air quali-
Aral Sea resulted in the demise of native tems are less certain, but perhaps as much ty, biogeochemistry, and climate. More-
fishes and the loss of other biota; the loss of was fixed there (28). over, mining and mobilization of phospho-
a major fishery; exposure of the salt-laden sea Human activity has altered the global rus and of many metals exceed their natural
bottom, thereby providing a major source of cycle of N substantially by fixing N2— de- fluxes; some of the metals that are concen-
windblown dust; the production of a drier liberately for fertilizer and inadvertently trated and mobilized are highly toxic (in-
and more continental local climate and a during fossil fuel combustion. Industrial fix- cluding lead, cadmium, and mercury) (35).
decrease in water quality in the general re- ation of N fertilizer increased from ,10 Beyond any doubt, humanity is a major
gion; and an increase in human diseases Tg/year in 1950 to 80 Tg/year in 1990; after biogeochemical force on Earth.
(23). a brief dip caused by economic dislocations Synthetic organic chemicals. Synthetic or-
Impounding and impeding the flow of in the former Soviet Union, it is expected ganic chemicals have brought humanity
rivers provides reservoirs of water that can be to increase to .135 Tg/year by 2030 (29). many beneficial services. However, many
used for energy generation as well as for Cultivation of soybeans, alfalfa, and other are toxic to humans and other species, and
agriculture. Waterways also are managed for legume crops that fix N symbiotically en- some are hazardous in concentrations as low
transport, for flood control, and for the dilu- hances fixation by another ;40 Tg/year, as 1 part per billion. Many chemicals persist
tion of chemical wastes. Together, these ac- and fossil fuel combustion puts .20 Tg/year in the environment for decades; some are
tivities have altered Earth’s freshwater eco- of reactive N into the atmosphere global- both toxic and persistent. Long-lived or-
systems profoundly, to a greater extent than ly—some by fixing N2, more from the mo- ganochlorine compounds provide the clear-
terrestrial ecosystems have been altered. The bilization of N in the fuel. Overall, human est examples of environmental consequenc-
construction of dams affects biotic habitats activity adds at least as much fixed N to es of persistent compounds. Insecticides
indirectly as well; the damming of the Dan- terrestrial ecosystems as do all natural such as DDT and its relatives, and industrial
ube River, for example, has altered the silica sources combined (Fig. 2), and it mobilizes compounds like polychlorinated biphenyls
chemistry of the entire Black Sea. The large .50 Tg/year more during land transforma- (PCBs), were used widely in North America
number of operational dams (36,000) in the tion (28, 30). in the 1950s and 1960s. They were trans-
world, in conjunction with the many that Alteration of the N cycle has multiple ported globally, accumulated in organisms,
are planned, ensure that humanity’s effects consequences. In the atmosphere, these in- and magnified in concentration through
on aquatic biological systems will continue clude (i) an increasing concentration of the food chains; they devastated populations of
(24). Where surface water is sparse or over- greenhouse gas nitrous oxide globally; (ii) some predators (notably falcons and eagles)
exploited, humans use groundwater—and in substantial increases in fluxes of reactive N and entered parts of the human food supply
many areas the groundwater that is drawn gases (two-thirds or more of both nitric oxide in concentrations higher than was prudent.
upon is nonrenewable, or fossil, water (25). and ammonia emissions globally are human- Domestic use of these compounds was
For example, three-quarters of the water sup- caused); and (iii) a substantial contribution phased out in the 1970s in the United
ply of Saudi Arabia currently comes from to acid rain and to the photochemical smog States and Canada, and their concentra-
fossil water (26). that afflicts urban and agricultural areas tions declined thereafter. However, PCBs
Alterations to the hydrological cycle can throughout the world (31). Reactive N that in particular remain readily detectable in
affect regional climate. Irrigation increases is emitted to the atmosphere is deposited many organisms, sometimes approaching
atmospheric humidity in semiarid areas, of- downwind, where it can influence the dy- thresholds of public health concern (36).
ten increasing precipitation and thunder- namics of recipient ecosystems. In regions They will continue to circulate through
storm frequency (27). In contrast, land where fixed N was in short supply, added N organisms for many decades.
transformation from forest to agriculture or generally increases productivity and C stor- Synthetic chemicals need not be toxic
pasture increases albedo and decreases sur- age within ecosystems, and ultimately in- to cause environmental problems. The fact
face roughness; simulations suggest that the creases losses of N and cations from soils, in that the persistent and volatile chlorofluo-
net effect of this transformation is to in- a set of processes termed “N saturation” (32). rocarbons (CFCs) are wholly nontoxic con-
crease temperature and decrease precipita- Where added N increases the productivity of tributed to their widespread use as refriger- z SCIENCE z VOL. 277 z 25 JULY 1997 497

ants and even aerosol propellants. The sub- fishing and whaling. Land transformation is spread invasion, in continental as well as
sequent discovery that CFCs drive the the single most important cause of ex- island ecosystems (50).
breakdown of stratospheric ozone, and es- tinction, and current rates of land trans- In some regions, invasions are becoming
pecially the later discovery of the Antarctic formation eventually will drive many more frequent. For example, in the San
ozone hole and their role in it, represent more species to extinction, although with Francisco Bay of California, an average of
great surprises in global environmental sci- a time lag that masks the true dimensions one new species has been established every
ence (37). Moreover, the response of the of the crisis (45). Moreover, the effects of 36 weeks since 1850, every 24 weeks since
international political system to those dis- other components of global environmen- 1970, and every 12 weeks for the last decade
coveries is the best extant illustration that tal change— of altered carbon and nitro- (51). Some introduced species quickly be-
global environmental change can be dealt gen cycles, and of anthropogenic climate come invasive over large areas (for example,
with effectively (38). change—are just beginning. the Asian clam in the San Francisco Bay),
Particular compounds that pose serious As high as they are, these losses of spe- whereas others become widespread only af-
health and environmental threats can be cies understate the magnitude of loss of ter a lag of decades, or even over a century
and often have been phased out (although genetic variation. The loss to land transfor- (52).
PCB production is growing in Asia). None- mation of locally adapted populations with- Many biological invasions are effectively
theless, each year the chemical industry in species, and of genetic material within irreversible; once replicating biological ma-
produces more than 100 million tons of populations, is a human-caused change that terial is released into the environment and
organic chemicals representing some 70,000 reduces the resilience of species and ecosys- becomes successful there, calling it back is
different compounds, with about 1000 new tems while precluding human use of the difficult and expensive at best. Moreover,
ones being added annually (39). Only a library of natural products and genetic ma- some species introductions have conse-
small fraction of the many chemicals pro- terial that they represent (46). quences. Some degrade human health and
duced and released into the environment Although conservation efforts focused that of other species; after all, most infec-
are tested adequately for health hazards or on individual endangered species have tious diseases are invaders over most of their
environmental impact (40). yielded some successes, they are expen- range. Others have caused economic losses
sive—and the protection or restoration of amounting to billions of dollars; the recent
Biotic Changes whole ecosystems often represents the most invasion of North America by the zebra
effective way to sustain genetic, population, mussel is a well-publicized example. Some
Human modification of Earth’s biological and species diversity. Moreover, ecosystems disrupt ecosystem processes, altering the
resources—its species and genetically dis- themselves may play important roles in structure and functioning of whole ecosys-
tinct populations—is substantial and grow- both natural and human-dominated land- tems. Finally, some invasions drive losses in
ing. Extinction is a natural process, but the scapes. For example, mangrove ecosystems the biological diversity of native species and
current rate of loss of genetic variability, of protect coastal areas from erosion and pro- populations; after land transformation, they
populations, and of species is far above vide nurseries for offshore fisheries, but they are the next most important cause of ex-
background rates; it is ongoing; and it rep- are threatened by land transformation in tinction (53).
resents a wholly irreversible global change. many areas.
At the same time, human transport of spe- Invasions. In addition to extinction, hu- Conclusions
cies around Earth is homogenizing Earth’s manity has caused a rearrangement of
biota, introducing many species into new Earth’s biotic systems, through the mixing The global consequences of human activity
areas where they can disrupt both natural of floras and faunas that had long been are not something to face in the future—as
and human systems. isolated geographically. The magnitude of Fig. 2 illustrates, they are with us now. All
Losses. Rates of extinction are difficult transport of species, termed “biological in- of these changes are ongoing, and in many
to determine globally, in part because the vasion,” is enormous (47); invading species cases accelerating; many of them were en-
majority of species on Earth have not yet are present almost everywhere. On many trained long before their importance was
been identified. Nevertheless, recent calcu- islands, more than half of the plant species recognized. Moreover, all of these seeming-
lations suggest that rates of species extinc- are nonindigenous, and in many continen- ly disparate phenomena trace to a single
tion are now on the order of 100 to 1000 tal areas the figure is 20% or more (48) (Fig. cause—the growing scale of the human en-
times those before humanity’s dominance of 2). terprise. The rates, scales, kinds, and com-
Earth (41). For particular well-known As with extinction, biological invasion binations of changes occurring now are fun-
groups, rates of loss are even greater; as occurs naturally—and as with extinction, damentally different from those at any oth-
many as one-quarter of Earth’s bird species human activity has accelerated its rate by er time in history; we are changing Earth
have been driven to extinction by human orders of magnitude. Land transformation more rapidly than we are understanding it.
activities over the past two millennia, interacts strongly with biological invasion, We live on a human-dominated planet—
particularly on oceanic islands (42) (Fig. 2). in that human-altered ecosystems generally and the momentum of human population
At present, 11% of the remaining birds, provide the primary foci for invasions, while growth, together with the imperative for
18% of the mammals, 5% of fish, and 8% of in some cases land transformation itself is further economic development in most of
plant species on Earth are threatened with driven by biological invasions (49). Inter- the world, ensures that our dominance will
extinction (43). There has been a dispro- national commerce is also a primary cause increase.
portionate loss of large mammal species of the breakdown of biogeographic barriers; The papers in this special section sum-
because of hunting; these species played a trade in live organisms is massive and glob- marize our knowledge of and provide spe-
dominant role in many ecosystems, and al, and many other organisms are inadver- cific policy recommendations concerning
their loss has resulted in a fundamental tently taken along for the ride. In freshwa- major human-dominated ecosystems. In ad-
change in the dynamics of those systems ter systems, the combination of upstream dition, we suggest that the rate and extent
(44), one that could lead to further ex- land transformation, altered hydrology, and of human alteration of Earth should affect
tinctions. The largest organisms in marine numerous deliberate and accidental species how we think about Earth. It is clear that
systems have been affected similarly, by introductions has led to particularly wide- we control much of Earth, and that our

498 SCIENCE z VOL. 277 z 25 JULY 1997 z

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Human Domination of Earth's Ecosystems
Peter M. Vitousek et al.
Science 277, 494 (1997);
DOI: 10.1126/science.277.5325.494

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