Change in Terrestrial Human Footprint Drives Continued Loss of Intact Ecosystems

Brooke A. Williams, Oscar Venter, James R. Allan, Scott C. Atkinson, Jose A. Rehbein, Michelle Ward, Moreno Di Marco, Hedley S. Grantham, Jamison Ervin, Scott J. Goetz, Andrew J. Hansen, Patrick Jantz, Rajeev Pillay, Susana Rodríguez-Buriticá, Christina Supples, Anne L.S. Virnig, James E.M. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


Human pressure mapping is important for understanding humanity's role in shaping Earth's patterns and processes. Our ability to map this influence has evolved, thanks to powerful computing, Earth-observing satellites, and new bottom-up census and crowd-sourced data. Here, we provide the latest temporally inter-comparable maps of the terrestrial human footprint and assessment of change in human pressure at global, biome, and ecoregional scales. In 2013, 42% of terrestrial Earth could be considered relatively free of direct anthropogenic disturbance, and 25% could be classed as “wilderness” (the least degraded end of the human footprint spectrum). Between 2000 and 2013, 1.9 million km2—an area the size of Mexico—of land relatively free of human disturbance became highly modified. The majority of this occurred within tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannah, and shrubland ecosystems, but the rainforests of Southeast Asia also underwent rapid modification. Our results show that humanity's footprint is eroding Earth's last intact ecosystems, and greater efforts are urgently needed to retain them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-382
Number of pages12
JournalOne Earth
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 18 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • biodiversity
  • conservation
  • cumulative pressure mapping
  • ecosystem degradation
  • human footprint
  • human modification
  • human pressure
  • land use change
  • wild lands
  • wilderness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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