Stewarding Species & Ecosystems

Kawesqar National Park in Patagonia, Chile, is regarded as one of the world’s few remaining intact wild lands. ANTONIO VIZCAÍNO / WWW.PARQUESNACIONALES.CL

Yesterday’s news from Brazil was dismal, providing a how-not-to stewardship example. Today we link to Fred Pearce’s article in Yale e360 about alternative, and more positive examples of stewardship, with a question at the center of the story:

Species or Ecosystems: How Best to Restore the Natural World?

What’s the best way to protect nature and restore what has been lost? A series of new scientific papers offer conflicting views on whether efforts should focus on individual species or ecosystems and point to the role human inhabitants can play in conserving landscapes.

Wildebeest on the Serengeti plain during their annual migration. ALEX BRAMWELL / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

The Serengeti plain of East Africa is one of the world’s great wild lands — teeming with lions, leopards and migrating wildebeest. But is it ecologically intact, a rare fragment of the earth unaltered by the hand of humanity? Or is it, as many researchers argue, a human-created landscape, nurtured by generations of Maasai cattle herders?

And should we care? In the Anthropocene, should conservation be about protecting iconic species, ecological intactness, nature’s resilience, or human custody of landscapes —whether in the Serengeti or other famed wild landscapes such as the rainforests of the Congo basin or the vast tundras of Siberia and Canada?

These questions have all been addressed in three new research papers, all published this month, which reach very different conclusions on the nature we have, how to conserve it, and the best way to fulfil the UN call to make the 2020s a Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

The issue of which of the world’s wild lands are truly pristine has long bugged ecologists. Conventional estimates put the amount of “intact” wilderness on the planet’s land surface outside Antarctica at between 20 and 40 percent. But Andrew Plumptre, who heads the Key Biodiversity Areas Secretariat, a coalition of NGOs, in Cambridge, England, says this is a false assumption. It is based on satellite assessments of human impact that pay little regard to what species are down below…

Read the whole article here.

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