Professor Mark Williams, School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, University of Leicester
Over the past ten millennia humans have halved the mass of the biosphere, concentrated most of the mass of terrestrial mammals in themselves and the animals that feed them, and in their billions of individuals now account for most of the numerical abundance of primates. Of itself, this indicates a level of domination that is exceptional for a single large species in the history of the biosphere. To that we must add the systematic reconfiguration of ecosystems globally and the 1000s of non-native species that have been translocated therein. Many of these changes have left a distinctive palaeontological signature in the sedimentary record, one likely to be recognisable in most regions and ecosystems of the world, and one which may help to define a new epoch of geological time, the Anthropocene. If sustained, this change may denote a permanent state-shift in the structure of the biosphere. If it fails, it will likely be the result of excessive human consumption resulting in a mass extinction. I will discuss how palaeontology contributes to quantifying the degree of Anthropocene change, and how it might be used to influence our strategies towards a more sustainable relationship with nature.
A manicured Japanese garden in Kyoto
Mark is a palaeobiologist at Leicester University. He studies the evolution of life on Earth and has been a long-time member (and former secretary) of the Anthropocene Working Group. He has co-authored popular science books with Jan Zalasiewicz on climate change, ocean evolution, and the story of life on Earth, and with Jan and Julia Thomas he co-authored “The Anthropocene: A Multidisciplinary Approach” His latest book with Jan is called “The Cosmic Oasis: the Remarkable Story of Earth’s Biosphere”.