In DepthPALEOECOLOGY

Human impacts on ecosystems began thousands of years ago

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Science  18 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6267, pp. 1452
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6267.1452

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Summary

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs boast about how disruptive their creations are, from cellphones to Uber. But in a global sense, humans' most disruptive technologies may have been born millennia ago, when our ancestors began to plant crops and cross the globe. Just in the past 150 years, humans have taken such a toll on Earth's status quo that some researchers say that in the past 150 years, we have ushered in a new geological time period: the Anthropocene. But scientists are now suggesting a new dimension to human-caused disruption, one that began about 6000 years ago. Starting then, humans disrupted relationships among plants and animals that had been stable for millions of years. The new data, based on the analysis of fossils and specimens from 80 fossil beds and locations spanning 300 million years, imply an early start to the human-dominated era. It also indicates that the current mass extinction is occurring with a different set of starting conditions than previous mass extinctions, conditions that may be make recovery more difficult.