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Incorporating novelty and novel ecosystems into restoration planning and practice in the 21st century

Perring, M.P., Standish, R.J.ORCID: 0000-0001-8118-1904 and Hobbs, R.J. (2013) Incorporating novelty and novel ecosystems into restoration planning and practice in the 21st century. Ecological Processes, 2 (1). Article 18.

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Novelty pervades the biosphere. In some cases, potentially irreversible abiotic and/or biotic changes have led to the crossing of thresholds and thus the formation of “novel ecosystems.” Their widespread emergence (particularly on land) and the presence of continued environmental change challenge a traditional restoration goal of restoring an historical ecosystem. Instead, we argue that restoration could broaden its frame of reference to consider how novel ecosystems might be used to maintain global biodiversity and provide ecosystem services and, in doing so, save potentially wasted efforts in attempting to fulfil traditional goals. Here we explore this contention in more depth by addressing: Are novel ecosystems innovative planning or lowering the bar? We show that novel ecosystems were not innovative planning in their original conception. On the contrary, they were recognized as ecosystems that were recalcitrant to traditional restoration approaches, coupled with an awareness that they had arisen inadvertently through deliberate human activity, either on- or off-site. Their recalcitrance to traditional restoration suggests that alternative goals may exist for these ecosystems using sometimes innovative intervention. This management may include biodiversity conservation or restoration for ecological function. We elucidate the latter aspect with reference to an experiment in the wheatbelt of Western Australia—The Ridgefield Multiple Ecosystem Services Experiment—the design of which has been informed by ecological theory and the acceptance of novelty as an ecosystem component. Although novel ecosystems do provide opportunities to broaden restoration planning and practice, and ultimately maintain and conserve global biodiversity in this era of environmental change, they necessarily “lower the bar” in restoration if the bar is considered to be the historical ecosystem. However, in these times of flux, such a bar is increasingly untenable. Instead, careful and appropriate interventions are required at local, regional, and global scales. These interventions need to take history into account, use ecological and evolutionary theory to inform their design, and be mindful of valid concerns such as hubris. Careful interventions thus provide an opportunity for broadening restoration’s framework to focus on maintaining global biodiversity and delivering ecosystem services as well as the traditional goals of restoring historical ecosystems.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: SpringerOpen
Copyright: © 2013 Perring et al
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