Land Cover Change

Humans continue to alter the land cover of the planet at high rates. Globally, about 10% of the land area is urbanized and another 30 – 40% is dedicated to intensive agricultural purposes. Perhaps, 10 – 20% is used for less intensive food production such as livestock grazing of rangelands. The remainder, about 30% or so, is still in a relatively natural state (although not necessarily pristine) but only 10% is formally protected by governments and conservation organizations. Of course, these percentages can differ a lot regionally.

Preservation of biodiversity on this planet depends critically on protecting natural areas and habitat, as well as slowing the rates of land cover conversion in those natural areas not protected.  Moreover, we cannot just protect many thousands of small isolated fragments of habitat. This will not suffice for larger mobile organisms. Rather, large contiguous areas of habitat will need to be protected.

I’m interested in studying the effects of land cover change on species diversity and particular “threatened and endangered” species that might be most susceptible to habitat loss and fragmentation. Ultimately, the way in which humans use the planet’s resources and alter landscapes depends on human population size and growth rate which in turn create the demand for living space, food production, and energy extraction. There are over 7 billion people on the planet (see this World Population Clock) and although global human population growth rate has been declining in recent decades, it is still too high at a little over 1% per year. This value can vary a lot among countries. My interest in habitat conservation also leads me to be interested in studying ways in which our planet can become more sustainable as habitat for us and all other forms of life.