What is Novel About Novel Ecosystems: Managing Change in an Ever-Changing World

Environ Manage. 2015 Jun;55(6):1217-26. doi: 10.1007/s00267-015-0465-5. Epub 2015 Mar 31.


Influenced by natural climatic, geological, and evolutionary changes, landscapes and the ecosystems within are continuously changing. In addition to these natural pressures, anthropogenic drivers have increasingly influenced ecosystems. Whether affected by natural or anthropogenic processes, ecosystems, ecological communities, and ecosystem functioning are dynamic and can lead to "novel" or "emerging" ecosystems. Current literature identifies several definitions of these ecosystems but lacks an unambiguous definition and framework for categorizing what constitutes a novel ecosystem and for informing decisions around best management practices. Here we explore the various definitions used for novel ecosystems, present an unambiguous definition, and propose a framework for identifying the most appropriate management option. We identify and discuss three approaches for managing novel ecosystems: managing against, tolerating, and managing for these systems, and we provide real-world examples of each approach. We suggest that this framework will allow managers to make thoughtful decisions about which strategy is most appropriate for each unique situation, to determine whether the strategy is working, and to facilitate decision-making when it is time to modify the management approach.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Climate Change*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans