Long-term trends in photosynthetic capacity measured with the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) are usually associated with climate change. Human impacts on the global land surface are typically not accounted for. Here, we provide the first global analysis quantifying the effect of the earth’s human footprint on NDVI trends. Globally, more than 20% of the variability in NDVI trends was explained by anthropogenic factors such as land use, nitrogen fertilization, and irrigation. Intensely used land classes, such as villages, showed the greatest rates of increase in NDVI, more than twice than those of forests. These findings reveal that factors beyond climate influence global long-term trends in NDVI and suggest that global climate change models and analyses of primary productivity should incorporate land use effects.
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