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.
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. Science, 333(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. Nature, 462(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 conservation, 157, 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 Ecology, 31(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 Letters, 2(1), 46-52.
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?
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
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.
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.
Allendorf, F. W., & Lundquist, L. L. (2003). Introduction: Population Biology, Evolution, and Control of Invasive Species. Conservation Biology Vol. 17 (1), 24-30.
Allison, S., Nielsen, C., & Hughes, R. (2006). Elevated enzyme activities in soils under the invasive nitrogen-fixing tree Falcataria moluccana. Soil Biology and Biochemistry Vol. 38(7), 1537-1544.
Clewell, A. F., & Aronson, J. (2013). Ecological Restoration – Principles, Values & Structure of an Emerging Profession (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C: Island Press.
D’Antonio, C., & Meyerson, L. (2002). Exotic Plant Species as Problems and Solutions in Ecological Restoration: A synthesis. Restoration Ecology Vol 10 (4), 703-713.
Davis, M. A., Chew, M. K., Hobbs, R. J., Lugo, A. E., Ewel, J. J., Vermeij, G. J., et al. (2011). Don’t judge species on their origins. Nature Vol 474, 153-154.
Ehrenfeld, J. G. (2003). Effects of Exotic Plant Invasions on Soil Nutrient Cycling Processes. Ecosystems Vol. 6 (6), 503-523.
Forbes, A. S., Norton, D. A., & Carswell, F. E. (2015). Underplanting degraded exotic Pinus with indigenous conifers assists forest restoration. Ecological Management and Restoration Vol 16(1), 41-49.
Giera, N., & Bell, B. (2009). Economic Costs of Pests to New Zealand. Wellington: Crown Copyright- Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
Green, P. T., O’Dowd, D. J., Abbot, K. L., Jeffery, M., Retallick, K., & Mac Nally, R. (2011). Invasional meltdown: Invader–invader mutualism facilitatesa secondary invasion. Ecology Vol 92(9), 1758-1768.
Keenleyside, K., Dudley, N., Cairns, S., Hall, C., & Stolton, S. (2012). Ecological Restoration for Protected Areas-Principles, Guidelines and Best Practices. Gland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Marris, E. (2011). Rambunctious Garden. New York: Bloomsbury.
Norton, D. A. (2009). Species Invasions and the Limits to Restoration: Learning from the New Zealand Experience. Science Vol 325 (5940), 569-571.
Pawson, S. M., Ecroyd, C. E., Seaton, R., Shaw, W. B., & Brockerhoff, E. G. (2010). New Zealand’s exotic plantation forests as habitats for threatened indigenous species. New Zealand Journal of Ecology Vol 34 (3), 342-355.
Schlaepfer, M. A., Sax, F. D., & Olden, J. D. (2011). The Potential Conservation Value of Non-Native Species. Conservation Biology Vol. 25 (3), 428-437.
Vilà, M., & Weiner, J. (2004). Are invasive plant species better competitors than native plant species? – evidence from pair-wise experiments. OIKOS Vol 105(2), 229-238.
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Wong, M. H. (2003). Ecological Restoration of mine degraded soils, with emphasis on metal contaminated soils. Chemosphere Vol 50, 775-780.
Zavaleta, E. S., Hobbs, R. J., & Mooney, H. A. (2001). Viewing invasive species removal in a whole-ecosystem context. TRENDS in Ecology & Evolution Vol 16 (8), 454-459.
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Humanity is continuing to encroach on the natural world.
A conflict exists between our treatment of nature and what we demand from nature. Nature is a means to our very survival and yet we continue to destroy it.
The Great Barrier Reef (GBR), a world Heritage site acknowledged for its outstanding global significance to biodiversity, is at the centre of this conflict. Covering over 348,000 square kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) encompasses approximately 3000 reefs and represents 10% of the world’s coral reefs . It is home to many unique and endangered species , creating a spectacular array upon which Australia has built its international identity (Fig.1).
The GBR also holds monetary and resource value. It is a multiple use marine park which is open to sustainable resource use, supporting a commercial marine tourism and fishing industry. 6 million tourists visit the GBR annually, contributing $6.1 billion dollars to the Australian tourism industry .
Plans to expand an existing coal port (Abbot Port) within the GBR region have recently been approved. The resource uses associated with this expansion are proposed to uphold and enhance current conservation efforts throughout the region. Despite strict environmental conditions imposed upon its approval, several factors surrounding the proposal are in conflict with core conservation values:
1.) The reef is already in a state of jeopardized health as a direct result of anthropogenic stressors.
2.) The expansion will lead to some ongoing effects which can’t be mitigated.
3.) The expansion is to allow for capital investment in an unsustainable energy source (coal).
In the instance of Abbot Port expansion, resource use and conservation remain at conflict with one another and can not co-exist.
On 10 December 2013 the Australian government approved a dredging programme for proposed terminals at Abbot Port. This port, located within the GBR marine park region, is used in the exportation of coal . The proposal included dredging of up to 3 million cubic metres of spoil (sand, silt and clay off the seafloor) and disposal 24km offshore . The decision to approve this project has not been taken lightly, and the conclusion was reached under the agreement of 47 strict environmental conditions [2, 3, 4]. Among these conditions were: a 150% net benefit requirement for water quality, approximate monetary contribution to projects supporting reef health of $89 million and measures for protection of marine species and communities . Despite these stringent conditions, the approval has been met with fierce public opposition (Fig. 2).
Prior to approval, the proposal attracted 228 submissions in opposition . These submissions, from individuals, consultancies, nongovernmental and governmental agencies, cited adverse environmental impacts as a primary cause for concern . The GBR Marine Park Authority aims to balance economic development with environmental protection, stewardship and conservation. In granting of the proposal, the Australian government plans to uphold this aim.
Two sides to the debate:
Supporting the proposal are the projected benefits for the Australian economy, which are enabled by resource use. Expected outcomes include: an additional $660 million of revenue per year, $123 million household income per year and 2,300 full-time jobs . This revenue will have a flow-on-effect to conservation efforts, with a minimum required $89 million contribution to support projects aimed at reef health. However, if the environmental conditions prove insufficient and the integrity of the reef is jeopardised this would reduce the reefs appeal to tourists. The GBR generates $6.1 billion dollars in tourism revenue per year , an amount far exceeding the projected revenue generated by this expansion.
A 2009 outlook report for the GBR cited climate change (increasing sea temperature, ocean acidification and rising sea level), catchment runoff, sedimentation and coastal development as the greatest threats to the health of the GBR . In support of the expansion, those environmental effects which may arise as a result of the expansion, are not a current major concern for the reef. Despite this, approval was only granted under strict environmental conditions. Some of these conditions are unrelated to the possible effects which could be caused by the expansion. They go beyond effect mitigation and aim to improve health of the reef beyond its current state. In particular, the condition to ensure a net water quality state of 150% its current state will greatly improve the present quality of water within the GBR. Terrestrial run-off of polluted water and its effect on water quality has a significant adverse influence on many species within the GBR .
However, a question arises of the GBR’s current resilience to environmental stressors and whether environmental conditions are enough to uphold this. We must consider the ecosystems current state of health when determining whether Abbot Port expansion and conservation can co-exist. A multitude of anthropogenic stressors already plague this ecosystem: ocean acidification , large-scale bleaching events , rising seawater temperatures , pollution  and terrestrial run-off . All of these factors have led to a loss of over half the initial coral cover since 1985  (Fig. 3).
On the contrary to approval it is likely that environmental conditions will fail to avoid all negative impacts upon the reef. The effects of sedimentation and vessel traffic cannot be avoided completely and some species of coral  and juvenile reef fish  are very sensitive to these. The specific condition which addresses sedimentation: “Disposal activities cannot take place when wind and wave conditions or turbidity exceed a possible level…” , is not stringent enough to ensure that no harmful effects from sediment plumes arise. Due to the dynamic nature of marine systems, the conditions under which disposal is initiated may not remain constant until that sediment has settled. Extreme cases of sedimentation have caused a shift in the community composition towards dominance of sedimentation resilient species . Although such an extreme effect is unlikely, affected corals are in a prior state of stress and we do not know how close to their maximum tolerance levels they may be. The primary aim of this expansion is to create the infrastructure to allow for more vessel traffic. Juvenile reef fish use sound created by the reef to locate habitat and settle  and sound created by coal transporters would likely “drown-out” the sound of the reef, limiting fish larvae’s ability to locate and settle on the reef . An increase in shipping traffic would also increase the chance of invasive species introduction via ship ballast waters . Both these factors are outcomes which need to be considered carefully as there impacts go well beyond the initial stages of development. There remains to be no environmental conditions addressing the effect of shipping on noise pollution under the current approval .
Not only will dredging cause an initial and ongoing disturbance to an ecosystem already under considerable anthropogenic stress, but dredging is being undertaken to expand investment into an unsustainable resource. Abbot port is a coal port. Coal is an unsustainable resource due to the increasing pressure it places on natural system. Combustion of coal releases carbon dioxide . Carbon dioxide acts as a green house gas and contributes to global warming . Expansion of this port will cement a continued commitment to the use of fossil fuels. Investing in a resource, use of which leads to increases in atmospheric anthropogenic carbon dioxide and cedes our trajectory towards irreversible climate change , is in conflict with conservation values.
The Abbot Port expansion was not approved without careful environmental consideration and stringent conditions aimed to protect the environment and mitigate any negative impacts. If the GBR where existing in isolation, sealed off from current environmental issues plaguing the world, then these conditions would likely suffice. However, this is not the case. The GBR is already subjected to immense anthropogenic stressors as evident by mass bleaching , reduction in coral cover  and a general decline in reef health. All these factors have reduced the resilience of the reef, and any further impact should be avoided.
Several outcomes of the Abbot Port expansion are in conflict with conservation values. Despite best-practise attempts to reduce any sedimentation effects, some are likely to occur. Many coral species are sensitive to sedimentation  and due to the current state of reef health  we don’t know how resilient these species may be. Some ongoing effects cannot be remedied, especially the effect additional boat noise may have on larvae settlement . Finally, the dredging is to allow for the expansion of a port which is used for the exportation of coal. Coal, being a fossil fuel, is an unsustainable energy source. The combustion of coal contributes greatly to global pollution and carbon dioxide levels  of which have put the GBR under considerable stress.
Resource use and conservation cannot co-exist within the context of the Port Abbot expansion and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
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