Reconsidering Ecosystem Management Under Rapid Climate Change

An op-ed in the New York Times by Verlin Klinkenborg argues that in the light of climate change

the natural world as a whole begins to look like Central Park — an ecosystem where human influence is all pervasive. Parts of the park seem almost wild, but every creature in Central Park, native or not, has adapted to a world that is closely bounded by human activity. It is nature bordered by high-rises, intersected by paths and roadways, basking under artificial light at night.

Does this mean that we should stop distinguishing between native and invasive species? Klinkenborg argues that we should:

It’s important to remember that the distinction between native and nonnative depends on an imaginary snapshot of this continent taken just before European contact. That distinction is becoming even harder to make as climate change alters the natural world.

A new study from the University of Exeter and Oxford University finds that plant pests and diseases have been migrating northward and southward an average of two miles a year since 1960. This suggests that the plants on which they prey have been moving at similar rates. In places like the Adirondacks, for instance, you can follow the boundary between southern and northern tree species as it shifts northward, year by year. As plants and their pests adjust their range, under the influence of global warming, what becomes of the distinction between native and nonnative? To any individual species, it doesn’t matter whether it’s native or not. The only thing that matters is whether its habitat is suitable

Is it important whether we preserve the number of species in the wild? Or is just having healthy local diversity enough? Or should we just mind our own business altogether and let Nature work out how to live in the human-dominated world, diverse or not?

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