Ecology of the Anthropocene signals hope for consciously managing the planetary ecosystem

Clarence Lehman, Shelby Loberg, Michael Wilson, Eville Gorham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Human populations have grown to such an extent that our species has become a dominant force on the planet, prompting geologists to begin applying the term Anthropocene to recognize the present moment. Many approaches seek to explain the past and future of human population growth, in the form of narratives and models. Some of the most influential models have parameters that cannot be precisely known but are estimated by expert opinion. Here we apply a unified model of ecology to provide a macroscale summary of the net effects of many microscale processes, using a minimal set of parameters that can be known. Our models match estimates of historic and prehistoric global human population numbers and provide predictions that correspond to some of the more complicated current models. In addition to fitting the data well they reveal that, amidst enormous complexity in our human and prehuman past, three key ecological discontinuities have occurred in turn: 1) becoming dominant competitors of large predators rather than their prey, 2) becoming mutualists with food species rather than acting as predators upon them, and 3) changing from a regime of uncontrolled population growth to one of controlled fertility instead. All three processes have been interlinked with cultural evolution and all three ushered in developments of the Anthropocene. Understanding the trajectories that have delivered us to this stage can help guide prudent paths into the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2024150118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume118
Issue number28
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 13 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Anthropology
  • Demographic transition
  • Logistic and orthologistic growth
  • Possibilist agenda
  • Sustainability

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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