Novel Ecosystems in a New World Order
I recently spent four mind bogging days on Pender Island off the coast of Victoria in British Columbia to explore the concept of novel ecosystems. Joined by 30+ scientists and practitioners from around the world, we struggled to define the concept of novel ecosystems and what they mean to the conservation and restoration communities. In theory, novel ecosystems are novel assemblages of species, both plants and animals, that have largely resulted from human action, at unprecedented rates and over significant geographic scales. This “new wild” is currently overlooked by the science and conservation communities, yet is becoming more and more common around the globe. Our world is changing fast; modifications in climate, habitat connectivity, nutrient cycling, hydrology and pathogen vectors are resulting in a new ecology – one never before seen in the history of the earth. In essence, what this means is that historical references that have served the conservation and restoration communities are no longer relevant. So where do we go from here? How will we conserve biodiversity, restore ecological processes and maintain ecological functions in the face of this change and uncertainty?
What do Novel Ecosystems Mean for Ecological Restoration?
Novel ecosystems represent rapidly occurring new assemblages of plants and animals that we have never seen before on this planet. With climate change, altered hydrologic systems, over nitrification of soils, and the pervasive spread of invasive species we are altering the landscape in ways unimaginable in years past. We are crossing over biotic and abiotic thresholds at a rapid rate. What does this mean for ecological restoration? Are reference systems even applicable anymore for setting the benchmark for restoration initiatives? What does this mean in our quest to conserve and restore biodiversity? And what will happen to those ecosystem services that currently sustain life on Earth? How will they be effected?
Novel Ecosystems are Here to Stay
Novel ecosystems represent rapidly occurring new assemblages of plants and animals that we have never seen before on this planet. Arguably they are a valuable resource for biodiversity along with the provision of vital ecosystem services for all life on earth, including carbon sequestration, management of water resources and range of cultural services. Novel ecosystems offer cultural value and serve as critically important spaces for connecting economically impoverished and politically alienated communities with nature. So where do we go from here? How can we advance the science of novel ecosystems, convince the conservation community of their significance and affect policy change to recognize their importance?