Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Conservation Strategies Must Shift With Global Environmental Change, Ecologists Urge

Date:
February 7, 2008
Source:
University of Colorado at Boulder
Summary:
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. Scientists are now suggesting that 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. Accepting some permanent changes may increase health of ecosystems.

Extensive beetle damage in the West is a natural phenomenon now occurring at unprecedented scales. Post beetle-kill recovery of these areas will produce novel ecosystems, influenced by new climates, flora and fauna.
Credit: Image courtesy Thomas Veblen, CU-Boulder

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. Scientists are now suggesting that 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. Accepting some permanent changes may increase health of ecosystems.

Sustaining and enhancing altered ecosystems has become the new mantra for conservation and restoration managers as ecosystems continue to change in response to global warming and other environmental changes, says a new study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Professor Timothy Seastedt of CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department said atmospheric pollution, climate change, exotic species invasions, extinctions and land fragmentation have altered virtually every ecosystem on the planet. Managers and biologists should be nurturing so-called "novel ecosystems" -- thriving combinations of plants, animals and habitat that have never occurred together before -- and developing new conservation strategies for them, he said.

"The reality is that enormous environmental changes are happening very rapidly, and in many cases, there is very little we can do about them," said Seastedt. "We think the trick now is to accept, preserve and enhance these novel ecosystems and do what we can to shield them from further changes."

Current management practices often involve trying to fix only one aspect of an ecosystem, like eradicating an invasive species, according to the authors. But in many cases, such action does little to improve the ecosystem's overall health. Invasive plant species that have been removed, for example, are frequently replaced by other invasive species that quickly colonize the ecological "vacuum."

Instead, biologists and managers need to work with new approaches that focus on desired outcomes, emphasizing genetic and species diversity, said Seastedt, also a fellow at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. Such projects could include "reassembling" forest ecosystems in the West devastated by bark beetles, replanting them with bug-resistant trees and introducing vegetation that absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide and filters nutrient-enriched water, he said.

Seastedt likened today's land managers to harried triage doctors. "They are so busy trying to rectify past problems they have a hard time dealing with current problems. We think it is time for managers and ecologists to get in the trenches together and act quickly to manage some of these ecosystems in desirable directions," he said.

Recent successes include public land in Boulder County that is home to a swath of endangered tall grass prairie, he said. There, land managers use a spring grazing regime, allowing cattle to trample and remove standing dead vegetation, doing the job natural fires once did. After the cattle are moved for the year, warm season grasses emerge and fill into a lush stand of tall grass prairie, he said.

A second Boulder County example is a reclaimed gravel pit where managers added low-budget topsoil and a mix of nine native grass species with widely varying moisture tolerances, he said. "The grassland that has emerged under unusually dry conditions was not the one that existed prior to the gravel operations," said Seastedt. "But it is now dominated by a mix of native plant species that thrives in dry soil and anchors an area almost devoid of invasive species.

The team looked at management studies from the past 12 years for their research effort. "In managing novel ecosystems, the point is not to think outside the box, but to recognize that the box itself has moved, and in the 21st century, will continue to move increasingly rapidly," the authors wrote.

A paper on the subject was published online Jan. 31 in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, published by the Ecological Society of America. The paper was authored by Seastedt, Richard Hobbs of Murdoch University in Australia and Katharine N. Suding of the University of California, Irvine.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Colorado at Boulder. "Conservation Strategies Must Shift With Global Environmental Change, Ecologists Urge." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080131101747.htm>.
University of Colorado at Boulder. (2008, February 7). Conservation Strategies Must Shift With Global Environmental Change, Ecologists Urge. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080131101747.htm
University of Colorado at Boulder. "Conservation Strategies Must Shift With Global Environmental Change, Ecologists Urge." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080131101747.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) Organizers of the People's Climate March and other rallies taking place in 166 countries hope to move U.N. officials to action ahead of their summit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins