Earth’s vegetation is changing faster today than it has over the last 18,000 years

A global survey of fossil pollen has discovered that the planet’s vegetation is changing at least as quickly today as it did when the last ice sheets retreated around 10,000 years ago.

Beginning some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, Earth’s plant communities began changing at an accelerating pace. Today, this pace rivals or exceeds the rapid turnover that took place as plants raced to colonize formerly frozen landscapes and adapt to a global climate that warmed by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

The research, published May 20 in Science, suggests that humanity’s dominant influence on ecosystems that is so visible today has its origin in the earliest civilizations and the rise of agriculture, deforestation and other ways our species has influenced the landscape.

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