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Ecological History vs. Social Expectations: Managing Aquatic Ecosystems

Gordon H. Reeves, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station
Sally L. Duncan, Institute of Natural Resources, Oregon State University


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The emerging perspective of ecosystems as both non-equilibrium and dynamic fits aquatic ecosystems as well as terrestrial systems. It is increasingly recognized that watersheds historically passed through different conditions over time. Habitat conditions varied in quantity and quality, primarily as a function of the time since the last major disturbance and the legacy of that disturbance. Thus, to match the effects of historical processes, we would expect a variety of conditions to exist across the watersheds in a region at any time. Additionally, watersheds have different potentials to provide habitat for given fish species because of variation in physical features. This developing ecological understanding is often preempted by social desires to bring all watersheds to a “healthy” condition, which in turn is reflected in a common regulatory approach mandating a single condition as the long-term goal for all watersheds. Matching perceptions and regulations to the way aquatic systems actually change and evolve through time will be a major challenge in the future.

Key words

aquatic ecosystems; legacy of disturbance; non-equilibrium ecosystem dynamics

Copyright © 2009 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087