“Novel” definitions

There is an important debate nowadays discussing the significance of the term: “NOVEL ECOSYSTEM”. Why is this debate important and why it has caught so much attention by scientific media and journalists, bloggers included? Here, some thoughts from my class:

4 thoughts on ““Novel” definitions

  1. In the discussion of novel ecosystems, the class seemed to be in consensus that applying the term “novel ecosystem” to an area does not imply a specific management plan. The novel ecosystem concept is only the acceptance that an ecosystem has changed from its original state, as stated by Hobbs et al. (2014)—although defining the original state of an ecosystem can be heavily debated. Each novel ecosystem should be treated as individual cases with specific management plans. In some cases, it may not be economically or physically viable to restore the ecosystem. However, in other cases in which restoration may be possible and considered an ecologically valuable thing to do, actions should be taken (which would be determined on a case-by-case basis).

    Before the class discussion, our group had a hard time reaching a consensus about how beneficial the novel ecosystem concept was. On one hand, we thought that it was important to recognize and accept that many ecosystems have changed and are composed/function in a very different way than they used to. On the other hand, accepting the novel ecosystem concept may normalize ecosystem destruction (Murcia et al. 2014). However our group’s debate occurred before we had separated the term “novel ecosystem” from potential management plans. This separation is key, as the term does not imply any specific management plan. Restoration is still an option with the novel ecosystem concept; it just is not always the primary option. If the scientific community stops combing the novel ecosystem concept with a specific management plan, it may become a less controversial idea.

    – Bryce, Ellen, Alyssa, Torrie, Karli, Alanna

  2. Laura, Maria, David, Rob, Darcy, Heather, Maddie, & Megan;

    We believe the term “novel ecosystem” as defined by Hobbs et al. (2006) provides the best label for these types of ecosystems. We feel the concept of novel ecosystems presents a superior way of describing the nature of what were formerly referred to as degraded ecosystems. “Novel” better works to describe the gray area than the term “degraded” often limits to the black and white actions of complete restoration or non-action.

    The novel ecosystem concept does not imply attempt to restore an ecosystem to a past state. Instead, it is the idea that when restoration is not feasible, either ecologically, economically, or socially, as in the case of Rubus niveus in the Galapagos, that those ecosystems are not entirely worthless and can have value both in containing native plants and providing ecosystem services, among other things. However, this does not imply that we should not attempt to restore ecosystems when this course of action is feasible.

  3. Ellen Kuerbitz, Calli Wise, Susie Proctor, Taylor Nelson, Mariana Breña, Carmen Atwater

    Our group’s consensus was that the novel ecosystems concept defines novel ecosystems as self-organizing ecosystems where biotic and abiotic factors are different from the “historical” state, due to past indirect or direct human interventions (Hobbes et al. 2006). This definition does not in any way imply the course of management actions or lack thereof within the ecosystem (Hobbes et al. 2014).

    We argue that the term “novel ecosystem” is simply a new way of defining what many refer to as “degraded ecosystems.” With this new label, we acknowledge that these ecosystems are not inherently good or bad. If a certain area is identified as a novel ecosystem, we are simply saying that this area should be further studied. After identifying how its presence impacts the local environment and native species, we can determine whether intervention is feasible or appropriate (Gardener 2013).

  4. Defining an ecosystem as “novel” provides a neutral term for a changed or transformed community. It has garnered significant debate in the scientific community, the majority of which surrounds the definition itself and whether or not it implies management. However, the definition of a novel ecosystem does not include any specifics about management. A “novel ecosystem” should only be interpreted as an ecosystem that has changed from its “historical” state by human intervention (Hobbes et al., 2006). The idea implies that some form of action is required, but that action could take many forms, from restoration to isolation and monitoring. Restoration is often seen as the only answer, and while it is an attractive concept, it is not always beneficial or cost-effective. In many instances, isolation and monitoring can help analyze the status of the ecosystem regarding impacts on the surrounding environment, and changes that have taken place. Just because an ecosystem is transformed or different from its original identity does not mean that restoring it would be necessarily beneficial for the community as a whole.

    In many cases, the ecological services provided by a novel ecosystem provide valuable benefits for organisms in the community. When considering management of novel ecosystems, it is important to consider cost-benefit analyses regarding finances, time investment, and these ecological services that the ecosystem provides. In the case of Psidium guajava replacing Scalesia pedunculata in the evergreen forest, the invasive P. guajava can sometimes provide greater ecological services than the original S. pedunculata, especially when it comes to giant tortoise conservation as they utilize the P. guajava as a source of food.

    -Byran, Cori, Devin, Ezra, TJ, Erin, Andrew

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