Anthropogenic ecosystem disturbance and the recovery debt

This paper was the result of a series of workshops we got funded through the US National Center of Environmental Synthesis and iDiv (Germany). We built the frist large database on ecosystem restoration where we estimated how much we are losing in restored ecosystem compared with ecosystems that were undisturbed. Using a novel mathematical approach we estimated the area between the recovery trajectory curve and the reference constant to estimate the recovery debt, a concept that we coined. We found that restored ecosystem were on average 30% less diverse, hosted 50% less animals and plants, and were 40% less efficient in the cycling of carbon and nitrogen than reference, undisturbed ecosystems. Since we built this database, we have learned of two other initiatives mimicking our effort. Several papers have been published using our mathematical approach to estimate the recovery debt.

A ’critique’ to the novel ecosystems concept

This paper emerged as a result of discussion that the group of authors was having about the concerns of new paradigms proposed in the field of restoration ecology. The proponents of novel ecosystems were aiming to relax the efforts on controlling invasive species and accept many of the ecosystems being heavily transformed by humans as the new normal. We contended that the concept itself was empty given the fact that most of ecosystem on earth have some degree of human influence, so the term ecosystem itself would already capture the idea of novel. Out second and most fearful concerns was that it would be used by managers to cut effort in either controlling invasions or preventing them. We have been found this this has been occasionally the case in management contexts. I am not sure the overall impact of this paper, although it has been heavily cited, on the spread of the novel ecosystem concept, but the reality is that in most of the ecological and restoration for a, the concept is rarely used any more.