AboutZoos, Since 2008


Inter­na­tional sci­en­tists crit­i­cize adop­tion of ‘novel ecosys­tems’ by policymakers

pub­lished 14 Sep­tem­ber 2014 | mod­i­fied 14 Sep­tem­ber 2014

Embrac­ing ‘novel’ ecosys­tems is dan­ger­ous, accord­ing to a new study by an inter­na­tional team of sci­en­tists, includ­ing a Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee (UT), Knoxville, professor.

Novel-ecosystemNovel ecosys­tems arise when human activ­i­ties trans­form bio­log­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties through species inva­sions and envi­ron­men­tal change. They are seem­ingly ubiq­ui­tous, and thus many pol­i­cy­mak­ers and ecol­o­gists argue for them to be accepted as the ‘new nor­mal’ — an idea the researchers say is a bad one.

In the study, pub­lished in the Sep­tem­ber edi­tion of the aca­d­e­mic jour­nal Trends in Ecol­ogy and Evo­lu­tion, the inter­na­tional team, lead by Car­o­line Mur­cia of the Uni­ver­sity of Florida, argues that adopt­ing novel ecosys­tems is based on faulty, data-​deficient assump­tions and a catchy schematic fig­ure, not on robust, empir­i­cally tested science.

Novel ecosys­tems yield unin­tended and per­verse out­comes, and the con­cept pro­vides ‘license to trash’ or ‘get-​out-​of-​jail card’ for com­pa­nies seek­ing to fast-​track envi­ron­men­tal licenses or to avoid front-​end invest­ment in research and restora­tion,” said Dan Sim­berloff, an ecol­ogy and evo­lu­tion­ary biol­ogy pro­fes­sor at UT Knoxville. “The con­cept may even pro­vide incen­tives to gov­ern­ments to con­tinue to ignore the long-​term envi­ron­men­tal and eco­log­i­cal neg­a­tive impacts of busi­ness as usual with respect to sus­tain­able devel­op­ment and nat­ural resources management.”

Mur­cia and her col­leagues have writ­ten a damn­ing indict­ment of those who think any­thing will do when it comes to heal­ing the dam­age we have done to our nat­ural world.
Stu­art Pimm, Duke Uni­ver­sity, a con­ser­va­tion expert who was not involved in the study »

The authors warn that the ‘novel ecosys­tems’ con­cept is not only an empty shell, it is also a real threat in terms of pol­icy direc­tion. It is tan­ta­mount to open­ing the flood­gates to inva­sive species and aban­don­ing ecosys­tems that have evolved his­tor­i­cally over many mil­len­nia and the bio­di­verse com­mu­ni­ties they have created.

Instead, they call for apply­ing the pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ples of con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion to re-​establish or try to emu­late the his­tor­i­cal tra­jec­to­ries of our ecosys­tems, to allow restored sys­tems to adapt to envi­ron­men­tal changes while pro­vid­ing essen­tial ser­vices to human populations.

The authors acknowl­edge bar­ri­ers to restora­tion and con­ser­va­tion but note that they are soci­o­log­i­cal, polit­i­cal and eco­nomic, not eco­log­i­cal. Projects like the restora­tion of the jar­rah for­est near Perth and the sand dune plant com­mu­ni­ties of north­ern Cal­i­for­nia demon­strate that with real deter­mi­na­tion and appro­pri­ate invest­ment, restora­tion can work very effec­tively — even on utterly dev­as­tated landscapes.

Eco­log­i­cal restora­tion is mak­ing its way to the top of the agenda world­wide at the United Nations, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, devel­op­ment banks, the world’s largest con­ser­va­tion orga­ni­za­tions, and board­rooms of multi­na­tional resource cor­po­ra­tions. Thirty years of research and devel­op­ment in the sci­ence of eco­log­i­cal restora­tion show it is pos­si­ble to reha­bil­i­tate and restore degraded land­scapes. Impor­tantly, restora­tion makes sci­en­tific and polit­i­cal good sense as an invest­ment whose ben­e­fits far out­weigh its costs, write the authors.

(Source: UT Knoxville press release, 18.08.2014)

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