The Human Footprint in the West: A Large-scale Analysis of Anthropogenic Impacts

Anthropogenic features such as urbanization, roads, and power lines, are increasing in western United States landscapes in response to rapidly growing human populations. However, their spatial effects have not been evaluated. Our goal was to model the human footprint across the western United States. We first delineated the actual area occupied by anthropogenic features, the physical effect area. Next, we developed the human footprint model based on the ecological effect area, the zone influenced by features beyond their physical presence, by combining seven input models: three models quantified top-down anthropogenic influences of synanthropic predators (avian predators, domestic dog and cat presence risk), and four models quantified bottom-up anthropogenic influences on habitat (invasion of exotic plants, human-caused fires, energy extraction, and anthropogenic wildland fragmentation). Using independent bird population data, we found bird abundance of four synanthropic species to correlate positively with human footprint intensity and negatively for three of the six species influenced by habitat fragmentation. We then evaluated the extent of the human footprint in relation to terrestrial (ecoregions) and aquatic systems (major rivers and lakes), regional management and conservation status, physical environment, and temporal changes in human actions.

Author, Source 
Matthias Lueu, Steven E. Hanser, and Steven T. Knick