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Ecosystem-based Adaptation using Ecosystem Engineers

The concept of ecosystem engineering was first formalised in the mid-1990s (Jones et al, 1994). Ecosystem engineers can be defined as “organisms whose presence or activity alters their physical surroundings or changes the flow of resources, thereby creating or modifying habitats”.  One of the challenges facing us as we attempt to reverse the loss of natural capital and rebuild is how to “scale-up” from individual restoration sites to large-scale ecologically-sustainable landscapes.  Last week I read about how beavers are being reintroduced in California to slow and conserve water helping to restore underground aquifers. The article suggests that rather than spend billions to redirect streams and build a few big dams, the [US] government could build tens of thousands of smaller dams for far less money and get beavers to maintain them for free. Similar ideas have been proposed and have just started in the United Kingdom. One can imagine other examples, from ants and earthworms as soil engineers, to mangroves as natural sea walls. I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has practical experience with using [other] ecosystem engineers, either plant or animal, for ecosystem-based adaptation.

Ecosystem-based Adaptation using Ecosystem Engineers

Contribution to: Challenges to Implementing Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA)

An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal, and microorganism communities and the nonliving environment, interacting as a functional unit. Humans are integral parts of ecosystems, and every ecosystem supports our lives in multiply ways, which in economic terms can be described as ecosystem services. Some of these services are obvious, such as water, food or natural resources, and others are not so obvious, such as nutrient cycling that maintains the conditions on earth. Some examples of ecosystems include:
a) grasslands,
b) marine,
c) coastal,
d) inland water,
e) forest and woodland,
f) dry lands,
g) island,
h) mountain,
i) polar,
j) cultivated, and
k) urban.

The impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to increasing storm frequency and devastating droughts, are already affecting millions of people around the world. As a result there is an urgent need for robust and effective strategies which allow society and ecosystems to adapt to a changing world. Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA), by employing ecosystem-based approaches and making use of green infrastructure, harnesses the adaptive forces of nature and provides one of the most widely applicable, economically viable and effective tools to combat the impacts of climate change. The low-cost, flexible approaches of EbA can also provide multiple other benefits, such as poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

EbA initiatives still face a range of barriers. At the national levels, the different ecosystem services and functions are managed by diverse stakeholders and sectors that often do not work in a coordinated fashion. For instance, managing water resources in an ecosystem may be under the department of water, facilitating access to the trees and other products under the department of forests, and land for farming under the department of agriculture. If all are working independently in their silos, competition over the use of services could lead to degradation.

EbA requires consultation and engagement with the people that depend on the resources. This may be hindered by the lack of access to the required information and knowledge, the inability of local communities to participate in forums where the decisions on ecosystem management are being undertaken, or even alienation as urbanization takes people further and further away from the ecosystems that provide them with various services.

EbA is an emerging ecosystem management approach within the evolving context of climate change. As with all new practices, it will take time for people to understand and implement EbA. Some may fear that it will impose a new financial burden. Others may feel threatened by the loss of control over the current processes they use to manage ecosystems and seek to co-opt it by re-naming their old practices as EbA instead of integrating the missing principles of EbA into existing processes.

References
1. http://www.unccd.int/en/programmes/Event-and-campaigns/WDCD/Pages/What-i..., accessed on November 17, 2016.
2. http://www.seachangecop.org/node/1868, accessed on November 17, 2016.

Contributor:
Dr. Santosh Kumar Mishra (Ph. D.),
Technical Assistant,
Population Education Resource Centre (PERC),
Department of Continuing and Adult Education and Extension Work,
S. N. D. T. Women's University,
Patkar Hall Building, First Floor,
1, Nathibai Thackersey Road, Mumbai-400020, Maharashtra, India.
Email: drskmishrain@yahoo.com
Skype: mishra5959
Tel.: +91-022-22066892 (O) +91-022-28090363 (R) +09224380445 (M)

Ecosystem Engineers

Dear Santosh,

Many thanks for your recent post.  What I was really looking for was some commentary from persons with practical experience of the use of ecosystem engineers in ecosystem-based adaptation, and whether this has particular advantages, or disadvantages?  For example, this week I discovered that beavers, introduced to start a fur-trade industry in Argentina, have become invasive, so clearly ecological engineers should not be used outside of their historical range - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaver_eradication_in_Tierra_del_Fuego

David

Recent journal article on ecosytem engineers

Dear all,

I found a couple of recent articles giving examples of the use of fossorial species (earthworms and ants) as ecosystem engineers in Australia to reduce the risk of fire through the more rapid incorporation of leaf litter into the soil.  The article references and abstracts is here and the full article is open access:

Petrosillo, I. and Zurlini, G. (2016), The important role of ecological engineers in providing ecosystem services at landscape level. Anim Conserv, 19: 500–501. doi:10.1111/acv.12321

Hayward, M. W., Ward-Fear, G., L'Hotellier, F., Herman, K., Kabat, A. P. and Gibbons, J. P. (2016), Could biodiversity loss have increased Australia's bushfire threat?. Anim Conserv, 19: 490–497. doi:10.1111/acv.12269

I would still like to hear from others of more exmples.

David Duthie