Nature 2.0 - New Challenges for Ecologists in the Face of Climate Change

Drawing on examples from Australia, Sharon Oosthoek wrote in New Scientist (5 July 2008 No 2663) "Nature 2.0" about the challenges for ecologists in the face of rapid environmental change, as a consequence of climate change, exotic species invasions and land fragmentation.

The following is a brief summary of the article. You can subscribe to New Scientist online and read the full article (2421 words) at: http://environment.newscientist.com/article/mg19926631.400

By definition, conservation is a status quo and in order to think outside the box, Timothy Seastedt from the University of Colorado argues conservationists have to "recognise that the box itself has moved, and in the 21st century will continue to move increasingly rapidly". He condones a process to reassemble ecosystems, selecting for the best survivors and maximising outcomes. Oosthoek reveals that, although this is viewed as controversial, we are already engineering changed ecosystems through our release of greenhouse gases and that non-governmental organisations like the World Wide Fund for Nature are already factoring change into decisions about where to direct their efforts. Australia is faced with a double whammy - dealing with over-clearing and fragmentation whilst trying to reassemble ecosystems that are drought resistant. According to Richard Hobbs, a restoration ecologist at Murdoch University in WA "people are thinking of bringing species from drier areas". As strange as this may seem, in other parts of the world similar things are happening naturally. In 2006, the first documented Grizzly Bear, Polar Bear hybrid a "Grizzlar" was shot by hunters in Canada. Accepting hybrids as a natural succession in human biodiversity management may be inevitable - what is the alternative? Hobbs agrees "to say you should not think about it is like putting your head in the sand".

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