First global map of human habitation near natural areas

globalna mapa zamieszkiwania

In the face of ever-increasing climate change and the growing impact of human activity on the environment, scientists have for years focused their efforts on understanding and studying this phenomenon. Recently, thanks to an international collaboration of scientists from Poland, the United States, Israel and Germany, significant progress has been made in this field. The first global map of human habitation near natural areas such as forests and shrublands has been created. This innovative form of imaging is a major step forward and a key tool that will facilitate analysis of humanity’s impact on the environment and help forecast future challenges, such as wildfires. With this map, scientists now have a tool in their arsenal that offers not only valuable data, but also opens up new perspectives on the study of human-wildlife interactions.

What is a global habitation map?

The global map of human habitation near natural areas, also known as the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), is a groundbreaking tool that provides scientists and urban planners with insights into the dynamics of human and natural dependence and coexistence. The development of this map was made possible by impressive advances in satellite technology, which made it possible to collect detailed data on the distribution of people and nature on a scale that was previously unattainable.

The WUI is not only a research tool, but also a practical instrument that can be used for forecasting and planning emergency management activities, such as wildfires, and for formulating environmental and biodiversity conservation strategies. Scientists and urban planners hope the map will become a key reference for various studies and activities, such as analyzing interactions between domestic animals and wildlife or the penetration of invasive plants into natural areas.

Global habitation map – researchers distinguish two types of imaging

The global habitation map is distinguished into two main types: Intermix and Interface, which differ in the density of development and the proportion of natural vegetation. The Intermix type is characterized by a density of more than 6 houses per km² and natural vegetation making up a minimum of 50 percent. area. In the Interface type, on the other hand, with a similar density of development, natural vegetation does not exceed 50 percent. area, but there is a natural continuous area of not less than 5 km².

Global habitation map – small space, lots of people

The WUI areas, despite accounting for only 4.7 percent of the total. of the planet’s total land area, are home to an impressive number of nearly 3.5 billion people, almost half of the entire global population. Although they are particularly prevalent in Europe, where they cover as much as 15 percent. of the continent’s surface, studies have also revealed their significant presence in other regions, such as eastern Africa, Brazil, and southeast Asia, which had not previously been thoroughly studied in this regard. Poland stands out in Europe, having twice as many WUI areas as Romania and significantly more than other countries such as Slovakia, Spain and Portugal.

WUI areas, while attractive to many people because of their proximity to nature, are the site of many threats to communities and ecosystems. Fires, often caused by human activity, pose a serious threat, especially when the fire spreads quickly, making evacuation difficult. The number of fires in WUI areas has increased in recent decades, a result of both housing expansion and climate change. Other threats include loss of biodiversity, pollution, introduction of invasive species and changes in hydrology. Given the expected increase in the number of buildings and populations in the WUI and the anticipated increase in the risk of hazards such as more frequent fires as a result of climate change, it has become important to conduct a consistent global assessment of the WUI.

Dr. Dominik Kaim of the Jagiellonian University, one of the originators of the study, notes that climate change will intensify extreme events such as droughts, floods and fires. According to him, if population density in WUI areas increases, the problem of controlling dangerous phenomena will also increase, for example by extending the “fire season.”

Sustainability and environmental protection

Understanding the rules of WUI areas and managing them properly is key to sustainable development and environmental protection. As humanity continues to evolve, the balance between human needs and conservation will require increasing attention and strategic planning. Researchers hope that the global habitation map will become a very versatile tool that provides data to help shape future strategies and policies.

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