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Landscape Ecology

An Ecotope History

Anthropogenic Landscapes are areas of Earth's terrestrial surface where direct human alteration of ecological patterns and processes is profound, ongoing, and directed toward servicing the needs of human populations for food, fuel, fiber, timber, shelter, trade and recreation. 

Nearly all humans live in anthropogenic landscapes, especially in urban, suburban and densely populated rural village landscapes.

Anthropogenic landscape transformation (land-use change) is one of the primary drivers of global changes in climate, biodiversity and biogeochemistry.


Ecological processes in anthropogenic landscapes differ profoundly from those of pristine and indirectly impacted ecosystems.  These processes include species introduction and domestication, population management and harvest, the tillage transport and cover of soils by impervious structures, fossil fuel combustion, irrigation and the fertilization of ecosystems with nitrogen, phosphorus and other limiting nutrients. 

Anthropogenic landscapes are highly fragmented fine-scale mosaics of managed and unmanaged landscape features with clearly defined boundaries such as buildings, roads, yards and agricultural plots.

To measure and mediate long-term ecological changes in anthropogenic landscapes, land transformation and management must be measured at the fine spatial scales at which this generally occurs.  AEM was designed specifically for this purpose.

Anthropogenic Landscapes of the World
      A classification proposed by E.C. Ellis, October 25, 2005.  Minimum mapping scale 1 km2.

  1. Urban residential.  High population density, non-agricultural, high impervious surface area. Includes cities and towns.  Common globally.

  2. Urban, non-residential.  Low population density, high impervious surface area. Areas dominated by non-residential anthropogenic structures, especially industrial areas associated with urban landscapes.

  3. Suburban residential. Moderate population density, some vestigial agriculture, moderate impervious surface areas.  Common globally.

  4. Developed villages.  Moderate population density, some vestigial agriculture, moderate impervious surface areas.  These are historically agricultural villages where non-agricultural livelihoods now predominate and farmers are a small part of the population.  Common in more developed countries with long histories of dense rural populations, especially Europe.

  5. Agricultural villages. Moderate population density, with most of the population engaged in intensive agriculture in some way, low to moderate impervious surface areas.  Common in developing countries with dense rural populations, especially Asia.

  6. Pastoral villages.  Moderate to low population density, with most of the population engaged in sedentary pastoral livestock production sometimes accompanied by cropping, low to moderate impervious surface areas.  Probably most common in Africa.

  7. Extensive industrial agriculture.  Low population density intensive agriculture, low impervious surface areas.  Common globally.

  8. Plantations.  Low population density large-scale plantation forestry and agriculture, low impervious surface area, high woody cover.  Common globally.

  9. Shifting cultivation.   Low population density non-intensive traditional agriculture, low impervious surfaces. Rare today, vestigial in some developing countries.

  10. Extensive pastoral.  Low population density migratory non-intensive traditional livestock management and contemporary rangeland management, no impervious surfaces.

  11. Intensive non-residential disturbance.  Low population density, low impervious surface.  Primarily active deforestation, mining and other intensive disturbances not associated with permanent human occupation.


Ellis E. C., H. Wang, H. Xiao, K. Peng, X. P. Liu, S. C. Li, H. Ouyang, X. Cheng, and L. Z. Yang. 2006. Measuring long-term ecological changes in densely populated landscapes using current and historical high resolution imagery. Remote Sensing of Environment 100(4):457-473. [download]


2005 The Ecotope Mapping Working Group.  Please direct questions or comments about this website to: info@ecotope.org.
Last modified March 10, 2006