Carnegie Museum of Natural History

For more information, contact: Leigh Kish
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
412.622.3361 (office), 412.526.8587 (mobile)

January 13, 2010


Population Impact Carnegie Museum of Natural History Opens January 21, 2010

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania… How are the world’s nearly seven billion humans affecting ecosystems? And what effects do changing ecosystems have on humans? These questions and many others are explored through graphics, specimens, satellite images, and more in the new exhibition, Population Impact, at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, opening January 21, 2010. Population Impact focuses on the interconnectedness of global and regional ecosystems and all their various populations—of plants, animals, AND humans. Compelling case studies and examples from western Pennsylvania and around the world underscore the idea that unchecked population growth in any species has lasting consequences on natural systems, and that humans have become the dominant species in nearly every ecosystem on Earth. Choices we make affect the world in which we live in a very real way.

Population Impact reveals how humans are increasingly determining the future of life on Earth. As we learn more about the dynamics of populations of all species, we increase our ability to make choices and decisions supporting conservation and stewardship of the earth,” said Carnegie Museum of Natural History Director Samuel Taylor, PhD. “Ensuring quality of life for humans is directly dependent on maintaining healthy ecosystems."

Population Impact illustrates dynamic fluctuations within ecosystems by focusing on real world issues such as:

  • Human population through history: The current world population is almost seven billion, and is growing constantly. In Population Impact, visitors can track population growth in real time with a population clock, and review growth against a timeline of important milestones in history. Large-scale video graphics visually display the history of human population as well as possible future scenarios.
  • Urbanization: Using four cities of the world as case studies, visitors discover the effects of rapid population growth, including urban sprawl, water shortages, loss of natural habitat, depletion of local resources, and undue stresses on native species of plants and animals:
    • Las Vegas, Nevada, United States: rapid urban sprawl is depleting an already limited water supply
    • Santa Cruz, Bolivia: thousands of newly relocated citizens live in homes that have replaced a verdant lowland forest
    • Beijing, China: expanding economic opportunities encourage workers to move to cities, increasing populations and causing rapid growth of suburbs, replacing farmland
    • Dubai, United Arab Emirates: a phenomenal construction boom in this desert city is made possible only by importing virtually 100% of all building materials and necessities of life
  • Human population growth: What affects the rate of human population growth? What affects our birth and death rates? In this interactive section, visitors consider the balance of factors such as disease and natural disasters, and perhaps less obvious factors such as health care, education, and religious beliefs.
  • White-tailed deer: Addressing a particular concern in western Pennsylvania, Population Impact compares viewpoints of a highly debated issue: are the numerous white-tailed deer victims of human population growth, or are deer herds a nuisance that should be controlled and reduced?
  • Endangered forests: Since 2002, scientists from Carnegie Museum of Natural History have been documenting the animal and plant inhabitants in Hispaniola’s endangered mountain forests. These studies reveal populations of formerly unknown species and help inform habitat preservation efforts and land management decisions. Museum of Natural History scientists identify conservation priorities by applying their knowledge of these newfound wild populations.
  • Bird conservation: Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s environmental research center Powdermill Nature Reserve has one of the longest running bird-banding programs in the country. Visitors to this section of Population Impact learn how bird-banding studies generate long-term records of changes in many bird populations. This information is critical to ongoing conservation efforts.
  • Genetic diversity of tree populations: Carnegie Museum of Natural History Associate Curator of Botany Cynthia Morton, PhD, has helped to call attention to an unnaturally low genetic diversity among several species of trees in Pittsburgh’s parks and street plantings. Visitors learn that genetic diversity within these populations of trees may enhance their ability to withstand diseases or pests. These studies have led to innovative efforts to increase genetic diversity within nursery-grown tree stocks.

"Contemporary cultures often regard themselves as separate from nature, or in some ways, above it,” says Taylor. “However, human populations are the major global change factor to the natural systems we depend upon. Population Impact illuminates the ways in which humans impact ecological systems, significantly altering the availability of resources for many other species. While some species’ populations suffer in the human-induced reshuffling of nature, other populations increase, seemingly without control."

In addition to exploring environmental issues, the exhibition provides practical advice and philosophical perspectives on how people can help conserve resources and improve ecosystems. Population Impact engages visitors in an ongoing dialogue about the exhibition and its content, allowing visitors to share their thoughts, ideas, and reactions with others.

Population Impact is one of the many exhibitions at Carnegie Museum of Natural History that focus on the scientific research conducted by the museum to further our understanding of nature in all its global diversity.


Carnegie Museum of Natural History, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, is among the top natural history museums in the country. It maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 22 million objects and scientific specimens used to broaden understanding of evolution, conservation, and biodiversity. Carnegie Museum of Natural History generates new scientific knowledge, advances science literacy, and inspires visitors of all ages to become passionate about science, nature, and world cultures. More information is available by calling 412.622.3131 or by visiting the website,