Geo-ecology in the Anthropocene

E. Nadal-Romero, E. Cammeraat


Human activities have left signatures on the Earth for millennials, and these impacts are growing in the last decades. As a consequence, recent global change suggests that Earth may have entered a new human-dominated geological epoch. In the last years, much scientific debate has focused on the definition, stratigraphic signatures and timing of the Anthropocene. However, there is no a geological evidence, because these changes must be recorded in geologic stratigraphic material. Consequently, the definition of Anthropocene is controversial and the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) has not provided a formal and official definition.

Regardless of whether one is concerned with the proposed new Anthropogenic geologic epoch, it is evident that humans have significantly altered vegetation patterns and land cover (i.e. agriculture and subsequent land abandonment, conversion of forest to grasslands for pastoral use), water dynamics and distribution of fresh water (i.e. construction of dams), biogeochemical cycles (such as the carbon cycle), soil formation and soil erosion processes. Likewise, human have created and modified new landscapes (defined as anthropogenic landscapes).

This special issue includes 11 contributions concerning studies about the definition and timing of the Anthropocene as a new geological era, and showing some of the most important human impacts on the Earth.


Anthropocene; human impact; biodiversity; hydrology; erosion; land use changes

Full Text:



Arnáez, J., Lana-Renault, N., Ruiz-Flaño, P., Pascual, N., Lasanta, T. 2017. Mass soil movement on terraced landscapes of the Mediterranean mountain areas: A case study in the Iberian range, Spain. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 43 (1), 83-100.

Arthington, A.H., Kennen, J.G., Stein, E.D., Webb, J.A. 2018. Recent advances in environmental flows science and water management – Innovation in the Anthropocene. Freshwater Biology 63, 1022-1034.

Bowman, D.M., Balch, J.K., Artaxo, P., Bond, W.J., Carlson, J.M., Cochrane, M.A., D’Antonio, C.M., DeFries, R.S., Doyle, J.C., Harrison, S.P., Johnston, F.H. 2009. Fire in the Earth system. Science 324 (5926), 481-484.

Brown, A., Toms, P., Carey, C., Rhodes, E., 2013. Geomorphology of the Anthropocene: Time-transgressive discontinuities of human-induced alluviation. Anthropocene 1, 3-13.

Brown, A.G., Lespez, L., Sear, D.A., Macaire, J., Houben, P., Klimek, K., Brazier, R.E., Van Oost, K., Pears, B. 2018. Natural vs anthropogenic streams in Europe: history, ecology and implications for restoration, river-rewilding and riverine ecosystem services. Earth-Science Reviews 180, 185-205.

Brown, A.G., Tooth, S., Bullard, J., Thomas, D., Chiverrell, R.C., Plater, A.J., Murton, J., Thorndycraft, V.R., Tarolli, P., Rose, J., Wainwright, J., Down, P., Aalto, R. 2017. The geomorphology of the Anthropocene: emergence, status and implications. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 42, 71-90.

Calsamiglia, A., Fortesa, J., García-Comendador, J., Lucas-Borja, M.E., Calvo-Cases, A., Estrany, J. 2018. Spatial patterns of sediment connectivity in terraced lands: Anthropogenic controls of catchment sensitivity. Land Degradation & Development 29 (4), 1198-1210.

Camera, C., Djuma, H., Bruggeman, A., Zoumides, C., Eliades, M., Charalambous, K., Abate, D., Faka, M. 2018. Quantifying the effectiveness of mountain terraces on soil erosion protection with sediment traps and dry-stone wall laser scans. Catena 171, 251-264.

Carracedo, V., Cunill, R., García-Condron, J.C., Pèlachs, A., Pérez-Obiol, R., Soriano, J.M. 2018. History of fires and vegetation since the Neolithic in the Cantabrian Mountains (Spain). Land Degradation & Development 29, 2060-2072.

Cerdà, A., Giménez-Morera, A., Burguet, M., Arcenegui, V., González-Peñazola, F.A., García-Orenes, F., Pereira, P. 2012. The impact of the farming, abandonment and agricultural intensification on loss of water and soil. The example of the northern slopes of the Serra Grossa, Eastern Spain. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 38 (1), 75-94.

Colombaroli, D., Henne, P.D., Kaltenrieder, P., Gobet, E., Tinner, W., 2010. Species responses to fire, climate and human impact at tree line in the Alps as evidenced by palaeo-environmental records and a dynamic simulation model. Journal of Ecology 98, 1346-1357. https://doi. org/10.1111/j.1365-2745.2010.01723.x.

Crosby, A.W. 1972. Columbian Exchange: The Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT.

Crutzen, P.J., 2002. Geology of Mankind. Nature 415 23. Crutzen, P.J., Stoemer, E.F. 2000. The “Anthropocene”. The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) 41, 17-18.

Dirzo, R., Young, H., Galetti, M., Ceballos, G., Isaac, N.J.B., Collen, B. 2014. Defaunation in the Anthropocene. Science 345 (6195), 401-406.

Ehret, U., Gupta, H.V., Sivapalan, M., Weijs, V., Schymanski, S.J., Blöschl, G., Gelfan, A.N., Harman, C., Kleidon, A., Bogaard, T.A., Wang, D., Wagener, T., Scherer, U., Zehe, E., Bierkens, M.F.P., Di Baldassarre, G., Parajka, J., van Beek, L.P.H., van Griensven, A., Westhoff, M.C., Winsemius, H.C., 2014. Advancing catchment hydrology to deal with predictions under change. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 18, 649-671.

Ellis, E.C. 2017. Physical geography in the Anthropocene. Progress in Physical Geography 41 (5), 525-532.

European Commission, 2006. Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions. Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection (COM 2006.231). Commission of the European Communities, Brussels.

Ferreira, C.S.S., Pereira, P., Kalantari, Z., 2018. Human impacts on soil. Science of the Total Environment 644, 830-834.

Finney and Edward, 2006. The “Anthropocene” epoch: Scientific decision or political statement? GSA Today 26 (3-4), 4-10.

Foley, j., DeFries, R., Asner, G.P., Barford, C., Bonan, G., et al. 2005. Global consequences of Land Use. Science 309 (5734), 570-574.

Gallardo, B., Vila, L., 2019. Human influence, key to understand the biogeography of invasive species in the Anthropocene. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 61-86.

García, B., Errea, P., Gómez, D., Pizarro, M., 2019. Winners and losers of landscape changes over the last sixty years in one of the oldest and Southernmost National Parks of the European Alpine Region: Ordesa and Monte Perdido. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 123-141.

García-Ruiz, J.M., Lana-Renault, N. 2011. Hydrological and erosive consequences of farmland abandonment in Europe, with special reference to the Mediterranean region. A review. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 140 (3-4), 317-338. agee.2011.01.003.

García-Ruiz, J.M., Sanjuán, Y., Arnáez, J., Beguería, S., Gómez-Villar, A., Álvarez-Martínez, J., Lana-Renault, N., Coba-Pérez, P. 2016. Evolution of the subalpine belt in the Urbión Sierra (Iberian Range, Northern Spain): an example of the geoecology impact of human activity in the Ormazal Valley. Pirineos 171 e022.

García-Ruiz, J.M., Beguería, S., Lana-Renault, N., Nadal-Romero, E., Cerdà, A. 2017. Ongoing and emerging questions in water erosion studies. Land Degradation & Development 28, 5-21.

González-Álvarez, D., 2019. The need to understand the cultural biographies of alpine and subalpine landscapes during Later Prehistory: Upland Archaeology in the Cantabrian Mountains. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 143-165.

González-Sampériz, P., Montes, L., Aranbarri, J., Leunda, M., Domingo, R., Laborda, R., Sanjuán, Y., Gil-Romera, G., Lasanta, T., García-Ruiz, J.M. 2019. Escenarios, tempo e indicadores paleoambientales para la identificación del antropoceno en el paisaje vegetal del Pirineo Central (NE Iberia). Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 167-193.

Halifa-Marín, A., Pérez-Cutillas, P., Almagro, M., Boix-Fayos, C., 2019. Presión antrópica sobre cuencas de drenaje en ecosistemas fráfiles: variaciones en el stock de carbon orgánico asociadas a cambios morfológicos fluviales. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 245-269.

Hobbs, R.J., Arico, S., Aronson, J., et al. 2006. Novel ecosystems: theoretical and management aspects of the new ecological world order. Global Ecology and Biogeography 15 (1), 1-7.

Hooke, R.L., Martín-Duque, J.F., de Pedraza, J., 2012. Land transformation by humans: A review. GSA Today 22 (12), 4-10.

Leone, V., Lovreglio, R., Martín, M.P., Martínez, J., Vilar, L. 2009. Human factors of fire occurrence in the Mediterranean. In: E. Chuvieco, (Ed.), Earth Observation of Wildland Fires in Mediterranean Ecosystems. Springer-Verlag, pp. 149-170.

Lewis, S., Macklin, M.G. 2014. Marking time in Geomorphology: should we try to formalize an Anthropocene definition? Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 39(1), 133-137.

Lewis, S., Maslin, M.A. 2015. Defining the Anthropocene. Nature 519, 171-180.

McGregor, A., Houston, D., 2018. Cattle in the Anthropocene: Four propositions. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 43, 3-6.

Molinillo, M., Lasanta, T., García-Ruiz, J.M. 1997. Managing mountainous degraded landscapes after farmland abandonment in the Central Spanish Pyrenees. Environmental Management 21 (4), 587-598.

Montgomery, D.R. 2007. Soil erosion and agricultural sustainability. PNAS 104 (33), 13268-13272.

Montserrat Martí, G., Gómez García, D. 2019. Variación de los dominios forestales y herbáceo en el paisaje vegetal de la península ibérica en los últimos 20000 años. Importancia del efecto de los grandes herbívoros sobre la vegetación. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 87-121.

Novara, A., Keesstra, S., Rodrigo-Comino, J., Smith, P., Gristina, L., Cerdà, A., 2019. Long-term organic farming on a citrus plantation results in soil organic matter recovery. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 271-286.

Peña-Monné, J.L., Sampietro-Vattuone, M.M. 2019. Late Holocene anthropic degradation records in semi-arid environmnets (NE Spain and NW Argentina. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 195-217.

Pijl, A., Barneveld, P., Mauri, L., Borsato, E., Grigolato, S., Tarolli, P. 2019. Impact of mechanization on soil loss in vineyard terraced landscapes. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 287-308.

Poesen, J. 2017. Soil erosion in the Anthropocene: Research needs. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 43 (1), 64-84.

Puigdefábregas, J., Pérez-García, M., 2019. A neuro-scientific approach to environment care. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 19-31.

Rączkowska, S., 2019. Human impact in the Tatra Mountains. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 219-244.

Rodrigues, M., Jiménez, A., de la Riva, J. 2016. Analysis of recent spatial-temporal evolution of human driving factors of wildfires in Spain. Natural Hazards 84 (3), 2049-2070. https://doi. org/10.1007/s11069-016-2533-4.

Roepke, A., Krause, R., 2013. High montane-subalpine soils in the Montafon Valley (Austria, northern Alps) and their link to land-use, fire and settlement history. Quaternary International 308-309, 178-189.

Ruddiman, W.F. 2013. Earth Transformed. Freeman, New York, 400 pp.

Ruddiman, W.F., Ellis, E.C., Kaplan, J.O., Fuller, D.Q. 2015. Defining the epoch we live in. Is a formally designated “Anthropocene” a good idea? Science 348 (6230), 38-39.

Ruddiman, W.F., Thomson, J.S. 2001. The case for human causes of increase atmospheric CH4 over the last 5000 years. Quaternary Science Reviews 20 (18), 1769-1777.

Sanjuán, Y., Gómez-Villar, A., Nadal-Romero, E., Álvarez-Martínez, J., Arnáez, J., Serrano-Muela, M.P., Rubiales, J.M., González-Sampériz, P., García-Ruiz, J.M. 2016. Linking land cover changes in the sub-alpine and montane belts to changes in a torrential river. Land Degradation & Development 27, 179-189.

Savenije, H.H.G., Hoekstra, A.Y., van der Zaag, P. 2014. Evolving water science in the Anthropocene. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 18, 319-332.

Skinner, C., Gattinger, A., Muller, A., Mäder, P., Flieβbach, A., Stolze, M., Ruser, R., Niggli, U. 2014. Greenhouse gas fluxes from agricultural soils under organic and non-organic management—a global meta-analysis. Science of the Total Environment 468, 553-563.

Smith, B.D., Zeder, M.A. 2013. The onset of the Anthropocene. Anthropocene 4, 8-13.

Syvitski, J.P.M., Kettner, A. 2011. Sediment flux and the Anthropocene. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society A 369, 957-975.

Tarolli, P., Preti, F., Romano, N. 2014. Terraced landscape: From an old best practice to a potential hazard for soil degradation due to land abandonment. Anthropocene 6, 10-25. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.ancene.2014.03.002.

Tarolli, P. 2016. Humans and the Earth’s surface. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 41, 2301-2304.

Tarolli, P., 2018. Agricultural Terraces Species Issue Preface. Land Degradation & Development 29, 3544-3548.

Valladares, F., Magro, S., Martín-Forés, I., 2019. Anthropocene, the Challenge for Homo sapiens to set its own limits. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica 45 (1), 33-59.

Vanwalleghem, T., Gómez, J.A., Infante Amate, J., González de Molina, M., Vaderlinden, K., Guzmán, G., Laguna, A., Giráldez, J.V. 2017. Impact of historical land use and soil management change on soil erosion and agricultural sustainability during the Anthropocene. Anthropocene 17, 13-29.

Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Steffen, W., Crutzen, P., 2010. Response to “the Anthropocene forces us to reconsider adaptationist models of human-environment interactions”. Environmental Science and Technology 44(16), 6008.

Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, C. N., Williams, M. Barnosky, A., Cearreta, A., Crutzen, P., Ellis, E., Ellis, M. A., Fairchild, I. J., Grinevald, J., Haff, P. K., Hajdas, I., Leinfelder, R., McNeill, J., Odada, E. O., Poirier, C., Richter, D., Steffen, W., Summerhayes, C., Syvitski, J. P. M., Vidas, D., Wagreich, M., Wing, S. L., Wolfe, A. P., Zhishen, A., Oreskes, N. 2015. When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal. Quaternary International 383, 196-203.

Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, C.N., Wolfe, A.P., Barnosky, A.D., Cearreta, A., Edgeworth, M., Ellis, E.C., Fairchild, I.J., Gradstein, F.M., Grinevald, J., Haff, P., Head, M.J., Ivar do Sul, J.A., Jeandel, C., Leinfelder, R., Mcneill, J.R., Oreskes, N., Poirier, C., Revkin, A., Richer, D.B., Steffen, W., Summerhayes, C., Syvitski, J.P.M., Vidas, D., Wagreich, M., Wing, S., Williams, M. 2017. Making the case for a formal Anthropocene Epoch: an analysis of ongoing critiques. Newsletters on Stratigraphy 50 (2), 205-226.


Copyright (c) 2019 E. Nadal-Romero, E. Cammeraat

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

© Universidad de La Rioja, 2013

ISSN 0211-6820

EISSN 1697-9540