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Novel and designed ecosystems

Higgs, Eric
Restoration ecology 2017 v.25 no.1 pp. 8-13
aesthetics, agroecology, ecological restoration, ecological value, economic productivity, ecosystems, filtration, green infrastructure, hybrids, risk
Growing attention to novel and designed ecosystems, and the confusion that follows from the overlap of these distinct ecosystem approaches, risks a loss of focus on ecological values at the core of restoration ecology. Novel ecosystems originate in ecosystems that are transformed beyond which the practical efforts of conventional restoration are feasible. They are also self‐sustaining in the sense that they take time to form, and do not typically receive regular management. In this respect, they arise differently than designed ecosystems, which are assembled with specific goals in mind and are often heavily managed. Designed (or engineered) ecosystems comprise a variety of ecological approaches including reclamation (return a degraded ecosystem to productive capacity), green infrastructure, and agroecological systems. There are three elements that distinguish novel and designed ecosystems. Designed ecosystems typically require intensive intervention to create them, and ongoing management to sustain them; novel ecosystems do not. Second, the human intentions behind designed and novel ecosystems are usually different. Designed ecosystems exist in the service of human interests, including specific services (e.g. filtration, cooling, nature appreciation), aesthetics, and shifting value commitments toward green infrastructure; novel ecosystems arise typically through inadvertent human activity. Third, designed and novel ecosystems have different developmental pathways. Historical ecosystems are the starting point for restored, hybrid, and novel ecosystems; designed ecosystems are intentionally created. Designed ecosystems stand apart as providing a new origin for ecosystems of the future, including those that become novel ecosystems.