Traditional ecosystems in which communities of plants and animals have co-evolved and are interdependent are increasingly rare, due to human-induced ecosystem changes. As a result, historical assessments of ecosystem health are often inaccurate. A team of scientists present a new approach to management efforts in a paper posted this week on Frontiers e-View, the online prepress publication site of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, published by the Ecological Society of America. The researchers suggest that such efforts should focus less on restoring ecosystems to their original state and more on sustaining new, healthy ecosystems that are resilient to further environmental change.
Timothy R. Seastedt (University of Colorado at Boulder), Richard J. Hobbs (Murdoch University in Australia) and Katharine N. Suding (University of California at Irvine) looked at ecosystem management studies from the past 12 years to develop a new approach to managing ecosystems in the face of increasing human impacts.
The focus of ecological study should not simply recognize change, but should acknowledge that current systems have already been transformed and are in the process of transforming further, the authors write.
Historically, ecosystems have passed through discrete stages over time, based on a cycle of predictable disturbances. The authors define this variation as the historical range of variability for a particular geographic area. Many human factors contribute to moving an ecosystem away from its historical range of variability, including the composition of gases in the atmosphere, climate change, invasions of non-native species, extinctions and land fragmentation effects.
In the modern era, human activities augment and promote these disturbances, affecting ecosystems more rapidly and with a broader scope than traditional disturbances. Major permanent ecosystem changes are therefore much more likely. Environmental changes
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Ecological Society of America