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Implications of Current Ecological Thinking for Biodiversity Conservation: a Review of the Salient Issues

Tabatha J Wallington, Murdoch University
Richard J Hobbs
Susan A Moore

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Abstract

Given escalating concern worldwide about the loss of biodiversity, and given biodiversity’s centrality to quality of life, it is imperative that current ecological knowledge fully informs societal decision making. Over the past two decades, ecological science has undergone many significant shifts in emphasis and perspective, which have important implications for how we manage ecosystems and species. In particular, a shift has occurred from the equilibrium paradigm to one that recognizes the dynamic, non-equilibrium nature of ecosystems. Revised thinking about the spatial and temporal dynamics of ecological systems has important implications for management. Thus, it is of growing concern to ecologists and others that these recent developments have not been translated into information useful to managers and policy makers. Many conservation policies and plans are still based on equilibrium assumptions. A fundamental difficulty with integrating current ecological thinking into biodiversity policy and management planning is that field observations have yet to provide compelling evidence for many of the relationships suggested by non-equilibrium ecology. Yet despite this scientific uncertainty, management and policy decisions must still be made. This paper was motivated by the need for considered scientific debate on the significance of current ideas in theoretical ecology for biodiversity conservation. This paper aims to provide a platform for such discussion by presenting a critical synthesis of recent ecological literature that (1) identifies core issues in ecological theory, and (2) explores the implications of current ecological thinking for biodiversity conservation.

Key words

biodiversity conservation; disturbance; ecosystem management; non-equilibrium ecology; spatial dynamics; temporal dynamics; theoretical ecology
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087