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Will climate change make our current system of nature reserves redundant?

By Amanda Healy

Ecological reservation is currently used as a primary technique for preserving species or ecosystems.  By disallowing the exploitation of an ecosystem, it is assumed that the area will be protected, and will therefore be able to exist into perpetuity. However, due to the rapidly increasing temperatures caused by anthropogenic climate change, many different species are moving away from their previous ranges into more climatically suitable locations (Chen et al., 2011; Loarie et al., 2009). This essay will look at how that may affect ecological reserves, and what we may need to do to keep up with the ever-changing climate.

Images showing predictions for global climate change in the coming years. From express.co.uk

Climate-change induced range shifts are occurring in a vast number of species (Shoo et al.,2006). One study found that on average, species are moving to higher latitudes and altitudes at rates of 16km and 11m per decade, respectively (Chen et al., 2011). These rates obviously vary, depending on the intensity of climate change in any given area and the ranging ability of the species in question; migratory species are able to shift their ranges quickly, but sedentary species (such as trees) take much longer (Parmesan et al., 1999).


Because of the movement of species out of their original ranges, our current system of protected reserves may become redundant in the future. One estimate states that in 100 years, only 8% of our reserves will still have the same climate as they have today (Loarie et al., 2009). This means that many of the species that we are aiming to protect will no longer be able to live within these reserves. They will either move outside of the reserve’s borders, or even worse, barriers will inhibit their movement and they will go locally extinct.

The protection of these reserved species will likely require assisted colonisation in the future (Lunt et al., 2013).  The barriers that inhibit the movement of species, such as habitat fragmentation or the fencing around reservations, mean that these species will need help to move to a habitat that is suitable in the changing climate. The same applies to species that are slow moving or sedentary, as they are unlikely to be able to keep pace with the rate of climate change (Parmesan et al., 1999). This concept goes against traditional ideas of conservation and reservation, as it would often mean introducing a species to a geographical area that they have never occupied previously (Hoegh-Gulberg et al., 2008). Most reservations work to preserve only species that are native to the area. However, in order to save many of these species, it will likely be the best option in the coming years.

For these reasons, it is likely that nature reserves, for the purpose of species or ecosystem preservation, have a limited lifespan. At some point, as temperatures continue to rise and climates continue to move, we will have to reconsider our concepts of reservation ecology. Alternative solutions will need to be considered in order to protect the organisms that these reserves are currently housing.


Chen, I. C., Hill, J. K., Ohlemüller, R., Roy, D. B., & Thomas, C. D. (2011). Rapid range shifts of species associated with high levels of climate warming. Science333(6045), 1024-1026.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Hughes, L., McIntyre, S., Lindenmayer, D. B., Parmesan, C., Possingham, H. P., & Thomas, C. D. (2008). Assisted colonization and rapid climate change. Science (Washington)321(5887), 345-346.

Loarie, S. R., Duffy, P. B., Hamilton, H., Asner, G. P., Field, C. B., & Ackerly, D. D. (2009). The velocity of climate change. Nature462(7276), 1052-1055.

Lunt, I. D., Byrne, M., Hellmann, J. J., Mitchell, N. J., Garnett, S. T., Hayward, M. W., … & Zander, K. K. (2013). Using assisted colonisation to conserve biodiversity and restore ecosystem function under climate change.Biological conservation157, 172-177.

Parmesan, C., Ryrholm, N., Stefanescu, C., Hill, J. K., Thomas, C. D., Descimon, H., … & Tennent, W. J. (1999). Poleward shifts in geographical ranges of butterfly species associated with regional warming. Nature,399(6736), 579-583.

Shoo, L. P., Williams, S. E., & Hero, J. (2006). Detecting climate change induced range shifts: Where and how should we be looking? Austral Ecology31(1), 22-29.

Willis, S. G., Hill, J. K., Thomas, C. D., Roy, D. B., Fox, R., Blakeley, D. S., & Huntley, B. (2009). Assisted colonization in a changing climate: a test‐study using two UK butterflies. Conservation Letters2(1), 46-52.


Should the Ability for Restoration Justify the Degradation, Damage, or Destruction of Environments?

By Olivia Quigan

Restoration is becoming an increasingly useful tool in conservation. We can now bring biodiversity back to an area that has been impaired beyond recognition by human activities, such as logging, damming, or open cast mining. Given that we are restoring more and more ecosystems around the world, does this give us leave to destroy ‘pristine’ habitats in order to exploit them to gain access to resources?

The benefits of destroying habitats in order to access resources are mostly of economic value. When cost-benefit analyses for an open cast mine are done, the only environmental outcomes that are considered are those that can be turned into a monetary value (Abelson, 2015). These are quantified as the physical impacts on the environment and how these impact health and agriculture (Abelson, 2015). This ignores the intrinsic value of unique species, as through losing them we reduce global biodiversity – a value that cannot be measured in currency (Campbell, 2014).

An argument could be made for destruction of habitats with a view to restoration, that given enough planning time, species can be saved before the habitat loss occurs. They could then be returned to the habitat during the restoration process, or found suitable homes elsewhere, that are similar to their current habitat. Translocation can be a valid restoration method, however not without its risks. This method was attempted in 2011. To allow for an open cast mine in New Zealand’s South Island, the unique and endemic Powelliphanta augusta Snails were collected and stored in shipping containers with the ultimate goal of introducing them to nearby forests. This resulted in the deaths of 800 individuals due to a technical failure of the refrigeration unit they were stored in (Vallance, 2011). This attempt was a failure, because even with the remaining snails being translocated, they are not

Coal mine in the South Island that displaced the Powelliphanta Snails (Public Domain)

Coal mine in the South Island that displaced the Powelliphanta Snails (Public Domain)

successfully persisting in their new environment, with death rates at new sites of up to thirty per cent (Morris, 2010). There are many other instances of failed translocations. Analyses of many reptile and amphibian translocations between 1991 and 2006 showed that up to 30 per cent of translocations failed in producing self-sustaining populations (Germano & Bishop, 2008). This rate of failure must force us to come to the conclusion that we do not yet have the knowledge to prevent extinctions in the case of a planned environmental degradation, especially when endemic species are involved, as the risk is often too high to justify needless environmental degradation.


The creation of novel landscapes is an inevitable outcome of the anthropogenic influence on the world. As we remove natural habitats, the areas that replace them won’t be the same; no matter how hard we try to restore them. A study by Lugo, Carlo and Wunderle Jr. (2011) looked at the islands of Puerto Rico and the introduced species there.

A native and endemic frog of Puerto Rico

The common Coqui: An endemic frog of Puerto Rico

The forest cover here dropped from 100 per cent to just six per cent by the 1940s. The restoration of much of the forest has included many introduced species, both plants and animals. The resulting forest was a mixture of both, but the native plant species continue to dominate the forests, with cover of over 80 per cent. Native birds continue to be successful, and forage on both natives and introduced plants. The introduced honeybee appears to have adapted to the phenology of the native plants and is an important pollinator (Lugo, Carlo, & Wunderle Jr., 2012).  This indicates that novel habitats created by restoration efforts can be sustained with introduced species, but we must continue to protect the native species to ensure lasting intrinsic value of the ecosystem.

Disturbed habitats are more likely to be susceptible to invading species. These are defined as species which “proliferate and noticeably replace native species,” (Clewell & Aronson, 2013). Invasive species with a more generalist way of life will have an advantage over native species, especially if these species have evolved into a more specialist niche (Clewell & Aronson, 2013). This is even more applicable in island habitats, where animals have evolved with limited predators. Using the land for agriculture or industry changes the scope of the ecosystem, and increases the vulnerability of it to invasions from non-native species (Vitousek, D’Antonio, Loope, Rejmanek, & Westbrooks, 1997). Human modification of environments is a major driver the invasion by non-native species. Logged forests in Thailand that were home to an invasive weed experienced an eight-fold reduction in pollinators visiting native species. The invasive beetle, Coccinella septempunctata, showed higher abundances in agricultural grasslands when compared to non-modified areas (Didham, Tylianakis, Gemmell, Rand, & Ewers, 2007). Due to the precious value of native species, the total destruction of a habitat cannot be justified as this disturbance leads to increased vulnerability to species invasions.

The complete destruction of a habitat will always be detrimental to the species living there. To destroy a habitat for monetary gain is to place a value on the uniqueness of habitats, and deem it less important than the economy. The evidence shows that we are not capable of maintaining the integrity of a habitat if we destroy it completely. Disturbed habitats are more likely to allow invasive species, which decimate native populations. Human attempts at preservation by translocation of species often fail. As we cannot guarantee the safety of our unique species, we cannot justify the destruction of any habitat; regardless of how accomplished we are becoming at restoring them.


Abelson, P. (2015). Cost–Benefit Evaluation of Mining Projects. The Australian Economic Review, 442-52.

Campbell, R. (2014). Seeing through the dust: Coal in the Hunter Valley Economy. Canberra: The Australia Institute.

Clewell, A. F., & Aronson, J. (2013). Ecological Restoration – Principles, Values & Structure of an Emerging Profession (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C: Island Press.

Didham, R. K., Tylianakis, J. M., Gemmell, N. J., Rand, T. A., & Ewers, R. M. (2007). Interactive effects of habitat modification and species invasion on native species decline. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 22(9), 489-496.

Germano, J. M., & Bishop, P. J. (2008). Suitability of Amphibians and Reptiles for Translocation. Conservation Biology, 7-15.

Lugo, A. E., Carlo, T. A., & Wunderle Jr., J. M. (2012). Natural mixing of species: Novel plant-animal communities on Caribbean Islands. Animal Conservation, 233-241.

Morris, R. (2010). An Unfortunate Experiment. Forest And Bird, 14-16.

Vallance, N. (2011, November 10). Snail fridge deaths an avoidable tragedy. Retrieved from Forest and Bird: http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/what-we-do/publications/media-release/snail-fridge-deaths-avoidable-tragedy

Vitousek, P. M., D’Antonio, C. M., Loope, L. L., Rejmanek, M., & Westbrooks, R. (1997). Introduced Species: A significant component of Human-caused Global Change. New Zealand Journal of ecology, 1-16.


Cultural Ecosystem Services and Restoration: Reconnecting communities and people with nature

Cultural Ecosystem Services and Restoration: Reconnecting communities and people with nature

By Andrea Hirschberg

As people realise how degraded the environment has become, more are turning to local ecological restoration projects to help ‘do their bit’. Greater Wellington alone has over 30 local community based restoration groups listed on its web page (GWRC, 2016), with likely many more unlisted. For many restoration groups the aim is to restore the physical environment or return a particular species to the area. However, for other groups the cultural aspect (such as community connections and education) of restoration is the main aim of the project (Fernandez-Gimenez et al., 2008).

Cultural Ecosystem Services

Saeukhan and Whyte (2005) describe cultural ecosystem services (CES) as “nonmaterial benefits people obtain form ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experiences”. While CES are often highly regarded by many who are participating in restoration projects (Brancalion et al., 2014). They are however, often not covered in a lot of ecosystem services research (Chan et al., 2012 b) and there is currently poor integration of CES into management plans (Milcu et al., 2013, Plieninger et al., 2012 & Chan et al., 2012 a). The aim of this essay is to look at how restoration and cultural ecosystem services can foster community connections and connections between the people and the land

As Milcu et al. (2013) found, with the exception of recreational, aesthetic, heritage and educational services, there is very little inclusion of cultural ES into management plans. Meaning that values such as spiritual value, cultural identity and history and the knowledge system (Tilliger et al. 2015) in relation to the ecosystem are often left out of management plans. This means that many management plans lack the full range of success indicators available to them. A broader range of social-science tools need to be used when putting together a management plan to include cultural values rather than just economic values (Chan, et al. 2012 b & Tilliger et al. 2015). Tilliger et al. (2015) believe that the lack of inclusion and study of CES is due to CES being less tangible than other ES and often including non-use values making CES harder to estimate and quantify.


Interconnections of People and Nature

Community-based natural resource management can play a significant role in ecological restoration projects. This is done by providing civic engagement through resource and knowledge pooling, the growth of trust between stakeholders and connection with other community groups (Hibbard et al. 2006). The strengthening of relationships between community members was found to be an important factor for members of restoration groups by Kittinger et al. (2013) and Fernandez-Gimenez et al. (2008). One member of Kittinger et al. (2013) study states “we are not just restoring an ecosystem but a community”. In their study looking at collaborative, community-based forestry organisations Fernandez-Gimenez et al. (2008) found that this community building aspect of the restoration project was the most important aspect for some members of the restoration group. The restoration project provided a space for those who were interested in the same place to learn together and share knowledge about that place. Community based restoration projects allow a diverse range of people to come together for a common purpose and create a plan which relevant to them.

Fernandez-Gimenez et al. (2008) also found that restoration projects helped to reconnect people with the land and engaged people in the natural resources around them. Participating in community restoration projects helps people become more aware of the interconnectedness of nature and how their action affects the environmental health (Egan et al. 2011 and Kittinger et al. 2013). This is especially true for restoration projects based on traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Indigenous communities tend to have a more holistic world view than western science (WS) and many indigenous communities see themselves as a part of nature and on an equal level to everything else that makes up the ecosystem. For Maori this holistic world view has resulted in the idea of mauri (or life force of something). In terms of restoration, this means that if the mauri of the land is damaged then the mauri of the people is also damaged; if the land is sick the people are as well. Maori also believe in kaitiakitanga where everyone is a guardian of the land and everyone has responsibility to maintain the mauri of the land (Henwood & Henwood & Roberts et al. 1995). These two values are often what underpin iwi, hapu and whanau based restoration projects and are instrumental in reconnecting people with their land.

In their 2015 study Tilliger et al. focused on the connections between CES and the connections between CES and the land. They found that as cultural values and cultural connections to the land were lost degradation of the land occurred, which in turn resulted in a further loss of CES from the land, as shown in FIG. 1 below. I believe that in restoration projects the reverse can be true; as the land is restored CES will increase which will increase the restoration efforts.

 Figure 1
Figure 1. Shows the connections between CES and the land and how a reduction in one can result in a reduction of the other. From Tilliger et al. 2015



While there is currently a lack of studies and restoration management plans which focus on CES (Chan et al. 2012 b & Tilliger et al. 2015) those studies which have looked at CES (including Brancalion et al. 2014, Kittinger et al. 2013 , Fernandez-Gimenez et al. 2008 and Milcu et al. 2013) found that CES are widely regarded by participants. In some cases the reconnection of communities was the main reason for many participants becoming involved (Kittinger et al. 2013 and Fernandez-Gimenez et al. 2008). The reconnection of mana whenua with the land and the reassertion of kaitiakitanga by the mana whenua is often the driving factor of Maori led restoration projects in New Zealand (Henwood & Henwood & Roberts et al. 1995)


Brancalion, P.H.S, I. Villarroel Cardozo, A. Camatta, J. Aronson & R.R. Rodrigues, 2014. Cultural Ecosystem Services and Popular Perceptions of the Benefits of an Ecological Restoration Project in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Restoration Ecology 22 (65-71)

Chan, K.M.A., Satterfield, T., & Goldstein, J., 2012(a). Rethinking ecosystem services to better address and navigate cultural values Ecological Economics 74 (8-18)

Chan, K.M.A, A.D. Guerry, P. Balvanera, S. Klain, T. Satterfield, X. Basurto, A. Bostrom, R. Chuenpagdee, R. Gould, B.S. Halpern, N. Hannahs, J. Levine, B. Norton, M. Ruckelshaus, R. Russel, J. Tam & U. Woodside, 2012 (b). Where are Cultural and Social in Ecosystem Services? A Framework for Constructive Engagement. BioScience 62 (744-756)

Egan, D., Hjerpe, E.E., & Abrams, J. (eds). 2011. Human dimensions of ecological restoration: Intergrating science, nature and culture. Island Press, Washington DC. 410pp.


Fernandez-Gimenez, M.E., Ballard, H.L. & Sturtevant, V.E., 2008. Adaptive Management and Social Learning in Collaborative and Community-Based Monitoring: a Study of Five Community-Based Forestry Organizations in the western USA. Ecology and Society 13 (2)

Greater Wellington Regional Council 2016. www.gw.govt.nz/local-care-groups/ Accessed on 29th March 2016

Hibbard, M. & Lurie, S. 2006. Some community socio-economic benefits of watershed councils: A case study from Oregon, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 49(6), 891-908

Kittinger, J.N., Bambico, T.M., Minton, D., Miller, A., Mejia, M., Kalei, N., Wong, B., & Glazier, E.W. 2016. Restoring ecosystems, restoring community: socioeconomic and cultural dimensions of a community-based coral reef restoration project, Reg Environmantal Change, 16, 301-313

Milcu, A. Ioana, J. Hanspach, D. Abson, and J. Fischer, 2013. Cultural ecosystem services: a literature review and prospects for future research . Ecology and Society 18(3)

Plieninger, T., Dijks, S., Oteros-Rozas, E., & Bieling, C. 2013. Assessing, mapping, and quantifying cultural ecosystem services at community level. Land use Policy 33, 118-129

Sarukhan, J., & Whyte, A., (eds). 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being: Synthesis (Millennium Ecosystem Assesment). Island Press, Washington DC.

Shandas, V. & Messer, W.B, 2008. Fostering Green Communities Through Civic Engagement: Community-Based Environmental Stewardship in the Portland Area, Journal of the American Planning Association, 74:4, 408-418

Tilliger, B., Rodriguez-Labajos, B., Bustamante, J.V., & Settele, J., 2015. Disentangling values in the interrelations between cultural ecosystem services and landscape conservation-A case study of the Ifugao Rice Terraces in the Philippines. Land 4, 887-931


The SeaWorld Controversy: Not so Black and White

Looking Into Zoos and Aquariums and the Controversies Behind Them

By Brenda Perez


When I was a little kid, I remember going to the aquarium and being mesmerized by all the different sea creatures. In the sixth grade, I told my friends that I wanted to be a marine biologist so that I would be able to work with sea animals. I distinctly remember my friend teasing me and telling me that I would be one of the people training and doing shows with the dolphins. At age 12, that sounded like a dream. However, ten years later I have achieved my dream of becoming a marine biologist, but have chosen not to pursue the path of being a dolphin trainer. As a child, or even as an adult coming from a non-scientific viewpoint, you don’t tend to think about all the negative aspects that come with not only theme parks with animals, but all zoos and aquariums. As I have gone through life and school, I have a greater understanding of marine biology and conservation which has lead me to consider both advantages and disadvantages of these situations. When thinking about controversies such as SeaWorld, one has to go further and look at the positive and negative aspects of aquariums and zoos in general.

When is it conservation and when is it cruelty: The good, the bad, and the compromise

Zoos and aquariums provide researchers with the ability to study the behavior of animals in their “natural” environment (Ballanthyne et al. 2007). They frequently house the last individuals of the most threatened species around the world (Clarke 2009) and act not as a replacement for saving animals, but as a last resort or “holding area” for endangered species due to the fact that their native habitats are uninhabitable (Conway 2011). Captive breeding is also used in an effort to stabilize the species to a point where they will be able to sustain themselves in the wild (Hutchins et al. 2003).

Additionally, zoos and aquariums help educate the public about several things that they would otherwise not normally be exposed to. By visiting these facilities, people can learn about how global warming affects animals and environments, biodiversity issues facing species (Kawata 2013), and specific issues facing animals in their region (Whitham and Wielebnowski 2013). People get to connect with animals on a

Pamphlet given out at Zoo Atlanta with information about endangered species and conservation efforts. (Zoo Atlanta)

Image 1: Pamphlet given out at Zoo Atlanta with information about endangered species and conservation efforts. (Zoo Atlanta)

personal level and are exposed to not only environmental education, but also conservation strategies (Image 1) and what they can do to help (Patrick et al. 2007). They get emotionally engaged and become more open to communication about conservation both locally and worldwide (Ballantyne et al. 2007). After their visits to aquariums and zoos, people recognized that they could be a part of the solution to environmental problems by taking action in conservation efforts. Visitors believe that zoos and aquariums play an important role in animal care and conservation education and left feeling a stronger connection to nature (Falk et al. 2007; Heimlich et al. 2005). Many people in the central regions of countries would not be exposed to marine issues if it weren’t for aquariums, and they, along with zoos, provide additional insight on issues facing animals and environments globally. However, these are aspects that people do not initially take into account when thinking about zoos and aquariums.


When you ask most children what they think of SeaWorld, their immediate response is excitement about all of the amazing animals they have there. However, when you ask many adults, their first instinct is skepticism and resentment towards the conditions of said animals.

SeaWorld is criticized heavily by the public for several reasons: forcing its animals to put on shows for audiences, keeping them in tanks that are far too small, capturing animals from the wild, and separating families. But the public has been largely swayed by the media, which tends to focus on the negatives, as well as the “documentary” Blackfish, a persuasive piece that looks at only one side of the situation and appeals to human emotions. Granted, Blackfish brings these up as valid points but they do so in a manipulated context (Pierce 2015). In SeaWorld, killer whale calves are kept with their mothers and whales haven’t been captured from the wild in over 35 years. All of the animals that reside in any of their parks are taken care of physically and well treated (Walsh et al. 1994). They are studied for animal research in ways that scientists are unable to achieve in the wild (Falcato 2016). SeaWorld has rescued over 27,000

Children are exposed to and learn about killer whales and the importance of conservation efforts.

Image 2: Children are exposed to and learn about killer whales and the importance of conservation efforts. (SeaWorld)

animals and many of them have been returned to the wild after rehabilitation (Parham 2001). Busch Gardens, a SeaWorld park, has several birds, reptiles, and mammals on display at each location. Busch Gardens Tampa Zoo alone has over 12,000 animals including 250 species, of which more than 30 are threatened or endangered. In a little over ten years, the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund has given more than $10 million to over 700 projects around the world (Pierce 2015). Additionally, SeaWorld offers camps for children which educate them about all aspects of sea life and gets them involved from an early age (Image 2). While we may not agree with all aspects of SeaWorld, we have to realize that there are a great number of benefits that happen behind the scenes.

Aquariums and Zoos

Zoos and aquariums get criticized for the stress that they may cause to their animals (Morgan and Tromborg 2007). Touch tanks can be found at several aquariums nowadays to provide the possibility of personal interaction for visitors. The argument could be made that by allowing countless individuals to touch these animals that it could cause them stress. However, most animals that are exposed to this experience are more resilient; brittle stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, and horseshoe crabs have tough, rigid exteriors that can tolerate being handled. In addition, these animals are cycled throughout the day in order to limit the amount of time they are exposed (Rowe and Kisiel 2012). In addition to the stress of being handled, zoos and aquariums are criticized for having their animals exposed to artificial lighting, loud or sudden noises, uncomfortable temperatures, modified feeding schedules, and a limited living area. What people fail to realize is that caretakers do not simply haphazardly assign animals to spaces and forget about them. Animal behaviors are studied and recorded in order to provide better care and maintenance for each animal and its habitat. Feeding schedules are developed specifically for animals with their health as a first priority (Morgan and Tromborg 2007). Yes, different locations have different sizes of tanks or enclosures with varying amounts of animals in each of them. What many people tend to focus on is overcrowding within one area or limited space for the larger animals (Heimlich et al. 2005). Sadly, in the United States, about 90% of aquariums and zoos have not been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), meaning that they do not comply with the standards set by the accreditation commissioners (Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2010). The AZA has specific guidelines for all animals and the conditions that they should be kept in. there are approximately 2,100 aquariums and zoos in the US that are not AZA accredited. In many cases, there are financial limitations preventing expansion programs. Occasionally, these conditions can lead to animal conflict, or even deaths (Hutchins 2006), and standards that many would not consider suitable. The New Zealand National Aquarium houses a solitary Hawksbill sea turtle in a tank only seven times as long and two times as wide as it. He has been there for 27 years having being born in captivity. Not having been accredited by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the standards of living for this poor animal are not nearly where they should be (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2005). While one can argue that the educational and conservation benefits of all aquariums and zoos, we cannot ignore that in some instances non-accredited aquariums may have been detrimental.

Pearson Education

Image 3: A condor gets released after rehabilitation. (Pearson Education)

At the same time, aquariums and zoos have great rehabilitation programs for animals, including seals, sea turtles, dolphins, frogs, birds, wolves, monkeys and many more, that work behind the scenes and out of the public eye. These programs have helped nurse countless animals back to health and have successfully returned them back to their homes in the wild (Image 3; Rakes et al. 1999). Breeding programs exist to replenish populations and keep endangered animals from becoming extinct (Hutchins et al. 2003). If it weren’t for the conservation programs affiliated with aquariums and zoos, many of these animals would continue to decrease in the wild. By having programs that inform the public about these issues, there is an increased awareness of these issues and that has lead people to be more proactive in these fields. (Gross 2015).

World Association of Zoos and Aquariums

One of the most prominent members of WAZA is America’s AZA. Established in 1924, AZA’s goals include conserving wild animals, reintroducing endangered species, and restoring habitats. The accreditation commission has strict guidelines for the species they house: each animal’s enclosure or tank must meet living conditions and dimensions that vary with size and amount of individuals. The association has Animal Care Manuals for each species that get updated regularly

One of the many Animal Care Manuals followed by the AZA

Image 4: One of the many Animal Care Manuals followed by the AZA. (Association of Zoos and Aquariums)

and must be followed in order to maintain accreditation (Image 4). For example, a zoo or aquarium cannot keep animals in captivity if they aren’t considered a good candidate (Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2010). The AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction Program is focusing on the following ten endangered species with the goal of engaging the public to promote conservation: African penguins, Asian elephants, black rhinoceros, cheetahs, gorillas, sea turtles, sharks, vaquitas, Western pond turtles, and whooping cranes (Colbert 2016).

Currently, 233 zoos and aquariums have been accredited by AZA in the US. While a small victory, that is sadly only about 10% of all zoos and aquariums in the states. Nevertheless, these institutions hold 750,000 animals representing 6,000 species, of which 1,000 are endangered (Colbert 2016). These animals impact 180 million people annually. Each year, AZA provides $160 million to about 2,700 conservation projects in 115 countries over the world. Last year, they partnered with 575 nonprofit, government, and private organizations for these projects (Colbert 2016).

The AZA is one of 22 association members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Since 1946, WAZA has included several different associations all over the world that follow the same accreditation standards as those enforced by AZA. WAZA includes more than 330 zoos and aquariums over 50 countries. More than 700 million people visit their accredited facilities all over the world annually (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2005). Because of WAZA accredited zoos and aquariums, hundreds of thousands of animals are being properly cared for with appropriate living conditions; all over the world environmental education and conservation efforts are increasing. And that is amazing.


It would be misleading to characterize zoos and aquariums in either a fully positive or negative light. At an emotional level, many of us might want them to not exist and have all the animals be free to live their lives out in the wild. However, the sad truth is that many animals would not be able to survive in the wild without the chance they have had to grow as a population or the care that they are currently given in zoos and aquariums. While there can be no perfect harmony or solution, it appears that the best solution is to strive to have more facilities become accredited by WAZA.



Association of Zoos and Aquariums. (2010). The accreditation standards and related policies.

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Save A Place at the Table: Is There a Place for Non-Natives in Ecological Restoration?

By Andrea Gregor

Non-native species are known to be a strong driver of native species decline and habitat degradation (D’Antonio & Meyerson, 2002). All invasive species are non-native, yet not all non-native species are invasive (Clewell & Aronson, 2013). Non-native species have the ability to infect natives with disease, outcompete them and alter ecosystem functions (D’Antonio & Meyerson, 2002). Non-native species, however, have also been shown to enhance the process of ecological restoration by acting as an alternate food source, or increasing nutrients in soil and becoming an important part of ecosystems. I focus on non-native plant species, however non-native animal species follow similar trends, and equal research should be performed. If ecological restoration is the restoring of native landscapes, then is there any room for non-native species to be part of this process? How can we assure that non-natives used in ecological restoration will not become invasive?

The Potential Impact of Non-Native Species

An area of land that is to go through ecological restoration often has had disturbance caused by human action or environmental events (Keenleyside, Dudley, Cairns, Hall, & Stolton, 2012). According to Vilà and Weiner (2004), disturbance increases the chance of invasion by non-native species as species that have the potential to become invasive tend to be good colonisers after disturbances. As well as this, many create seed banks which allow them to endure for a long period, and make eradication difficult. With an increased risk of invasion, we get an increased risk of interspecific competition between native and non-native species. Studies conducted are unable to say that all non-native species always outcompete natives; however there is still a strong competitive effect on native species, which can cause a decline in the population of native species (Vilà & Weiner, 2004). Species compete for light, nutrients and space (Wilson & Tilman, 1993). Therefore including certain species of non-natives in restoration runs the risk that the introduction, be it accidental or not, could be detrimental to the persistence of that ecosystem through potential outcompeting and overcrowding.

If inadequate research is done, non-native species have the potential to become invasive in certain environments. Invasive species have been recognised as the second largest threat to global biodiversity after habitat fragmentation (Allendorf & Lundquist, 2003). Throughout the world, invasive species cost governments billions of dollars. Management of plants and animals listed under the Endangered Species Act cost $32-$42 million annually, in which 90% of those funds are allocated to mitigate the effects of invasive species (Wilcove & Chen 1998; D’Antonio & Meyerson 2002). In New Zealand invasive species cost $840 million each year to control, and produce a $1 billion loss in productivity (Giera & Bell, 2009). With such a large economic impact that invasive species have on New Zealand and the world, should we risk using species that have the potential to be invasive in ecological restoration?

Are All Non-Natives That Evil?


Figure 1: American hummingbird feeding on honeysuckle. John Bergez 2012

With adequate research, there is room to include non-natives in ecological restoration. Some non-native species, particularly plant species have been shown to increase the population of native species. Non-native species being used as an alternate food source for native species can lead to an increase in native population numbers due to the increased resources. For example, in the US, introduced honeysuckles are improving native bird populations (Figure 1). It is also found that seed dispersal of native plants is the highest where non-native honeysuckles are the most abundant due to dispersal by the now more populated native birds (Davis, et al., 2011). This positive effect of a non-native plant has enhanced the population of native bird species, as well as other native plants. Subsequently, removing non-native species can have negative effects to an ecosystem removal of these pine plantations will demolish the favourable , and successful eradication so far has been limited to small islands (Zavaleta, Hobbs, & Mooney, 2001). With declining native habitat, half of New Zealand’s threatened indigenous plants are found in historically rare ecosystems with localised distributions (Pawson, Ecroyd, Seaton, Shaw, & Brockerhoff, 2010). Encouraging natives to use non-native habitats as substitutes could help the continuation of species. The New Zealand large bird orchid (Chiloglottis valida) has been found within non-native Pinus nigra plantations. The microclimate under these pine trees which allow orchids to survive outside of their original habitat. Because of this reason, a small orchid reserve in this plantation has been created, while the rest of the plantation has been logged (Pawson, Ecroyd, Seaton, Shaw, & Brockerhoff, 2010). This example is one of many which show the necessity of keeping specific non-native species in order to retain native species.

Implications on Soil Nutrients


Figure 2: The soil alternating Falcataria moluccana. HELCO 2014 

Exotic plants can alter ecosystem processes through differences in nutrient cycles. They can cause an increase, or decrease to the soil nutrients created by native species (Ehrenfeld, 2003). Negative effects of the changes in the soil microbial community can lead to an increase in the invasiveness of an ecosystem from other species (Green, O’Dowd, Abbot, Jeffery, Retallick, & Mac Nally, 2011). This has the potential to create an invasion meltdown which would undo all restoration efforts thus far and render a project useless. Changes in soil structure, such as an increase in nitrogen can encourage growth from other invasive species which outcompete natives, and shroud out the light with denser canopies, reducing the growth of native species (Allison, Nielsen, & Hughes, 2006). In Hawai’i, nitrogen fixing invasive tree Falcataria moluccana (figure 2) alters the soil structure which limits the growth of native species. Along with this, F. moluccana facilitates the invasion of another non-native species, Psidium cattleianum (also known as the strawberry guava) which outcompete natives for resources (Allison, Nielsen & Hughes, 2006). If a species such as this was used in ecological restoration without research, it has the potential to become invasive and harm the ecosystem, rather than benefit it. Changes in soil structure can also have positive effects; non-native species are able to be used positively as substitutes for slower growing natives when restoring areas with poor productivity soils which have had disturbances such as overgrazing or mining (Wong, 2003). Fast growing nitrogen fixing trees from Asia were found to grow well in degraded pastures in Puerto Rico and accelerated regeneration of native forests (D’Antonio & Meyerson, 2002). Without exotic species in circumstances like this, ecological restoration would not be able to get under way, especially if natives  we are wanting to maintain struggle to establish in degraded soils. Non-natives in this case are essential to effective recovery of native sites. The differences in the nutrient cycles of non-native species and native species we want to restore will determine the impact non-natives will have on the soil composition and therefore the native species. These impacts can differ from site to site and can cause ecological restoration to fail or succeed. Research is our greatest tool to ensure we only use species that succeed, and remove species that will cause our project to fail.


Novel Ecosystems

With continued human movement, non-natives are becoming more and more abundant, creating many novel ecosystems (Marris, 2011). In ecological restoration, you must pick your battles; it is not possible to remove all introduced species. If a non-native has no potential of becoming invasive, and is doing no harm to an ecosystem, then leaving that species and focusing money on other areas would seem like the way forward. In some cases, I feel we should learn to embrace novel ecosystems, especially in circumstances where we are unable to return ecosystems back to their original state. Non-natives may have changed the habitat of an area to make it unsuitable for future natives, whether the non-native is present or not through changes in soil or species composition, and abundance (Norton, 2009) . According to Norton (2009), it has passed the biotic threshold, and there is no way to return the ecosystem back to its original state. If this is to have happened, and a non-native has taken over the niche of a native without affecting other species, it may be in our best interests just to embrace the change leave it there as part of a functioning ecosystem.


Non-native species have a place in ecological restoration, however we must be wary of which species we choose to include in these projects. The fact that invasive non-native species are one of the largest threats to ecological restoration means that using non-natives in these practises can lead us to walk on a fine edge between enhancing native species, and causing an invasive meltdown. Introducing non-native species seems like we are encouraging the opposite of what we are trying to achieve, however it has been shown in many cases to work. We have little room for error, therefore we must use short lived, well researched species and we must monitor them closely to ensure ecological restoration is achieved successfully. We must also acknowledge that there is always a chance of failure; a species may interact with its surrounding different than we had planned. This is a risk that is shared in all conservation and restoration projects which can be minimised, but never removed. In this essay.  We must also look at the possibility of leaving non-natives that have been determined low risk to ecosystems; we can never restore every area back to its original state, but if we pick our fights correctly, we are able to nurse many native species back with the help of non-natives.



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Restoring resilience: Can restoring coasts with ecosystem-based solutions protect social-ecological systems from the impacts of climate change?

By Anni Brumby

Victoria University of Wellington



The destruction of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 (Photo 1), extreme flooding on the east coast of Australia in 2007, and last year, my local train station in Porirua completely underwater. Welcome to the stormy and wet world of global climate change.

Photo 1. Two men paddle in high water in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Getty Images.

Many of the threats caused by climate change are especially severe in coastal and low lying areas (Nicholls et al., 2007). This is a major concern, as coasts all over the planet are densely populated. Coastal areas less than 10 metres above sea level cover only 2% of the Earth’s surface, but contain 13% of the world’s urban population (McGranahan, Balk, & Anderson, 2007). Often coasts are highly modified for human purposes, and crucial for economic stability (Martínez et al., 2007).

The observed and predicted coastal hazards include sea level rise and the resulting inundation; erosion and salinization of land (Gornitz, 1991); increased precipitation intensity and run-off; and storm flooding (Nicholls & Lowe, 2004). Climate change will also increase the frequency and intensity of weather extremes, such as hurricanes (Emanuel, 2005; Seabloom, Ruggiero, Hacker, Mull, & Zarnetske, 2013).

The existence of Homo sapiens rely on ecosystem services – “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems” (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005, p. 1), such as food production, raw materials, waste treatment, disturbance and climate regulation, water supply and regulation…The list goes on. Coastal ecosystems contribute 77% of global ecosystem-services value (Martínez et al., 2007), thus any coastal threats affect have major impacts for humans both economically and socially.

It is unlikely that we can stop global warming (Peters et al., 2013), but is there any way to mitigate the risks? Even if we cannot prevent the sea levels from rising or storms raging, maybe we can protect our coastal ecosystems and cities by restoring resilience in social-ecological systems with ecosystem based defence strategies.


Concept of resilience

Resilience was first introduced as an ecological concept by Holling in 1973, the idea mainly referring to dynamic ecosystems that can persist in the face of disturbances. High ecological resilience is closely linked to high biodiversity of ecosystems (e.g. Oliver et al., 2015; Worm et al., 2006). As people are increasingly seen as an integral part of the biophysical world (Egan, Hjerpe & Abrams, 2011), our current understanding of resilience now also includes the human dimension. According to one definition, resilience is the capacity of social-ecological system to sustain a desired set of ecosystem services in the face of disturbance and ongoing evolution and change (Biggs et al., 2012, p. 423).


From human-engineered to ecosystem based defences

For a long time, coastal hazard prevention relied solely on so called  “hard solutions”, such as building of sea walls and dykes (Slobbe et al., 2013). Recently there has been a shift towards “softer” approaches. These so called ecosystem-based adaptation or defence strategies aim to conserve or restore naturally resilient coastal ecosystems, such as marshes and mangroves, in order to protect human population from natural hazards (Temmerman et al., 2013). Restoring shores for protection is not a new idea, but it has gained momentum in recent years. Many volunteer groups are focused on restoring coastal ecosystems, such as the Dune Restoration Trust in New Zealand. Globally, the influential Nature Conservancy funds a project called Coastal Resilience, which aims to reduce coastal risks to communities with nature-based solutions (Coastal Resilience, 2016).

Restoring dune vegetation can help reduce erosion, while increasing and maintaining the resilience of coastal zones (Silva, Martínez, Odériz, Mendoza, & Feagin, 2016). Coastal ecosystems, for example forested wetlands and marshes, can play a significant role in reducing the influence of waves (Fig. 1) and floods (Danielsen et al., 2005; Hey & Philippi, 1995; Mitsch & Gosselink, 2000; Seabloom et al., 2013). In southeast India coastal zones with intact mangrove forests and tree shelterbelts were significantly less affected by the catastrophic Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, than the areas where coastal vegetation had been removed (Danielsen et al., 2005). Coastal vegetation can also buffer gradual phenomena such as sea-level rise or tidal changes (Feagin et al., 2009).


Figure 1. A simple figure showing how the wave impact is reduced in healthy coastal habitats due to the buffering effect of different coastal ecosystems, such as marshes. The Nature Conservancy.

One of the benefits of ecosystem-based strategies compared to traditional human-engineered solutions is that they are more cost-efficient. For example, investment of US$1.1 million on mangrove restoration to protect rice fields in coastal Vietnam has been estimated to save US$7.3 million per year in dyke maintenance (Reid & Huq, 2005). In addition, almost 8,000 local families have been able to improve their livelihoods and thus their resilience by harvesting marine products in the replanted mangrove areas (Reid & Huq, 2005).

It has been argued that healthy natural ecosystems are more effective than man-made structures in coastal protection (Costanza, Mitsch, & Day, 2006). For example, the devastating effects of the 2005 flood in New Orleans could partially have been avoided, if the wetlands surrounding the city had not been modified by humans, thus preventing the delta system absorbing changes in water flows (Costanza et al., 2006). The problem is, due to anthropogenic stressors, not many coastal habitats are healthy or in a natural state. This is something that restoration aims to change, but to really make a difference, we have a long road ahead.



Significant mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions is the most crucial action that can be taken to reduce the effects of climate change, but we also need to adapt to the predicted changes by increasing ecosystem management methods sensitive to resilience (Tompkins & Adger, 2004). Traditionally, ecological restoration is based on the idea that we want to return something to its former condition. But ecosystems are not stable or static, never have been, and never will be (Willis & Birks, 2006). The increased risk of climate change induced coastal hazards possesses a major challenge to New Zealand economically, socially and environmentally. We have approximately 18,200 kilometres of shoreline, and one of the highest coast to land area ratios in the world. Most of New Zealand’s towns and cities, including our capital city Wellington, are located by the sea. In order to survive, we need to embrace ecosystem-based solutions and aim to restore for resilience.



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