How to curb biodiversity loss

New research suggests integrating resilience thinking with conservation optimization

Photo: P. Larsson/Azote
A new article published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution proposes to draw on the strengths of resilience thinking and optimization of conservation to ensure more cost-effective and enduring conservation outcomes.

The article, entitled "Integrating resilience thinking and optimization for conservation" is written by Joern Fischer from The Fenner School of Environment and Society together with centre researchers Garry Peterson, Line Gordon, Thomas Elmqvist and Carl Folke. Together with researchers from Australia, Brazil, UK and Sweden, they argue for the integration of resilience thinking with optimization.
- These two perspectives often are thought of as being almost contradictory which has led to that many resilience scholars often disregard optimization literature and vice versa, although the perspectives can be very complementary with many other researchers working across this often artificial borders, says co-author Line Gordon.

Stronger together
The researchers highlight the fact that resilience thinking and optimization apply to different stages or scales of a conservation problem and, therefore, they can supplement each other. Where optimization recognizes resource scarcity, resilience recognizes system complexity.
- Integrating resilience thinking with conservation strategies could make conservation processes more efficient, effective and resilient in the long term, the researchers say.
One of the key strengths of resilience analysis is the importance of identifying key stakeholders and their interaction with ecological systems. This is crucial for developing efficient conservation strategies.
For instance, resilience analysis showed how the recent significant steps taken in Madagascar, a global biodiversity hotspot, to protect the nation's biodiversity, was possible only when key actors were interested, and these could negotiate supportive institutions.
Optimal solutions are not optimal all the time
- Resilience thinking can help with problem framing by providing a conceptual background for investigating important relationships and dynamics across both social and ecological systems, Gordon says.
For example, although optimization for conservation has a long history of incorporating uncertainties, the combination of high uncertainty and low controllability can render formal optimization difficult. An example of this is ‘novel´ ecosystems, where historically separate species co-occur in the same place for the first time, with unknown implications for ecological and evolutionary processes.

The invasive plants have completely altered the structure of native forest systems, and traditional methods of weed control appear unlikely to succeed.
- No 'optimal' solution should be seen as final in these new systems, co-author Garry Peterson says.

- Resilience thinking suggests that optimization must be thought of in a dynamic sense, with optimal solutions changing through time as new insights emerge or conditions in the system change, he says.

Source: Fischer, 2009. Integrating resilience thinking and optimisation for conservation. In Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 24, Issue 10, 549-554, 10 August 2009. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2009.03.020

See seminar video with professor Fikret  Berkes on social-ecological systems and conservation:

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Fischer, 2009. Integrating resilience thinking and optimisation for conservation. In Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 24, Issue 10, 549-554, 10 August 2009. doi:10.1016/j.tree.


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