A study titled “Holocene shifts in the assembly of plant and animal communities implicate human impacts” and published in the journal Nature shows the farming activities of humans which started 6,000 years ago actually disrupted 300 million years of nature already in place since the beginning of time.
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The University of Vermont researchers pointed out that nature started experiencing disruptions at about the same time when humans devised farming and it started to spread across North America.
"When early humans started farming and became dominant in the terrestrial landscape, we see this dramatic restructuring of plant and animal communities," said University of Vermont biologist Nicholas Gotelli, an expert on statistics.
The research team looked beyond the time when humans started developing atomic weapons, influencing climate change, spreading through urbanization, and excelling in industrial revolution to the Anthropocene era – the era when humans supposedly started impacting the Earth, to arrive at their findings.
"This tells us that humans have been having a massive effect on the environment for a very long time," said S. Kathleen Lyons, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History who led the new research.
Composed of about 31 scientists and supported by the National Science Foundation, the team analyzed plant and animal data from modern times and fossil records as a basis for their research – exploring the phenomenon of life pairs within the same community relying on the presence or absence of each other for survival in a given habitat.
Using the “aggregated” or “segregated” pairing model, the researchers found that two different animals or insects or beds could inhabit the same community at the same time without any conflicts in the food chain, while two other species may have to be absent from each other to survive in the same community. But all these changed when humans came on the scene and started farming activities.
The only factor that could have driven a wedge into this natural order in natural communities is the presence of humans, creating a barrier in the dispersal of plant and animal species. "If human activity has caused the terrestrial landscape to become more island-like, more fragmented," Gotelli said, "that would be consistent with this pattern of more segregated species pairs."
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But that is not all. Gotelli, a professor in UVM’s biology department noted that "We humans have influenced the landscape, but perhaps for a lot longer than we had previously recognized. When we look at landscapes and say, 'this is pristine or unaltered,' that's not necessarily true. We may have changed the rules over a much larger scale than we appreciate."