Applied ecology is the science of minimizing human impacts and of supporting ecological systems in an economic landscape. Often though, applied ecologists work in isolation from those economic forces shaping biological landscapes, not really knowing what businesses would like to accomplish for habitat protection or sustainability. At the same businesses are seldom aware of the knowledge, tools and insight provided by ecologists. And perhaps, greater interaction could help turn ecology into a science with direct impact into how human activities proceed and how we manage the impacts of those activities.
This is the premise of a paper by Paul Armsworth and 15 other authors on the ecological research needs of business, appearing in the Journal of Applied Ecology (for an interview with Paul, by yours truly, please go to the podcast, and I should point out that I am an Editor with this journal). The authors include academics, NGOs and industrial representatives, and they've come together to analyze patterns of cooperation and to discuss ways forward.
They reviewed papers appearing in the top applied ecology journals and grant proposals to the National Environmental Research Council (NERC) in the UK to measure the degree and type of interaction between ecologists and different industries. Ten to 15 percent of publications in applied journals showed some business involvement -mostly from the traditional biological resource industries (farming, fishing and forestry). Further, 35% of NERC proposals included some business engagement, but only 1% had direct business interaction.
Further, the authors reported on a workshop where ecologists and business representatives discussed a number of topics. This included how to minimize negative biodiversity impacts and for industries, such as mining, to consider ecosystem function, and how to develop new ecologically-based economic opportunities, such as insurers managing environmental risk. While there were some challenges identified (such as differing time frames of business needs versus scientific research), the authors note the positive atmosphere and the spirit of collaboration.
The research in this paper should be emulated elsewhere. A better understanding of business needs and desires can only inform and offer opportunities for applied ecological research. Top-down governmental regulation can only take conservation and ecosystem management so far and those who are directly involved in altering and managing ecosystems must articulate goals and desires in order to successfully apply ecological principles to biodiversity protection in an economic landscape.
Armsworth, P., Armsworth, A., Compton, N., Cottle, P., Davies, I., Emmett, B., Fandrich, V., Foote, M., Gaston, K., Gardiner, P., Hess, T., Hopkins, J., Horsley, N., Leaver, N., Maynard, T., & Shannon, D. (2010). The ecological research needs of business Journal of Applied Ecology, 47 (2), 235-243 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01792.x
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Monday, November 2, 2009
At first glance, potato farms might seem like an unlikely candidate for conservation efforts.
But Wisconsin researchers are demonstrating that biodiversity can be restored even in the midst of large-scale farming.
Paul Zedler, professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, and his colleagues are working with potato farmers to restore pre-settlement habitats on growers’ lands.
In central Wisconsin, 42,600 acres are devoted to potatoes. Since the landscape is dominated by agriculture, some proportion of farmland must be set aside for conservation to preserve biodiversity in this part of the state.
Restoration is a requirement of the Wisconsin Healthy Grown potato program, a partnership between UW–Madison, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers’ Association, and NGOs such as the International Crane Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the World Wildlife Fund.
The groundwork for the Healthy Grown program was laid out in the 1980s, when a group of potato growers voluntarily discontinued use of the high-risk pesticide aldicarb. The farmers turned to UW-Madison researchers for pest-management advice. This grassroots movement eventually drew attention from conservation agencies.
To be certified under the Healthy Grown eco-label, potatoes must be grown under a set of standards that restrict pesticide and fertilizer use. The program was able to draw from an extensive body of UW-Madison research to guide the formulation of these in-field standards. But farmers and environmentalists were interested in doing more.
Since the program's conception, growers had expressed interest in managing their farms as whole ecosystems rather than just focusing on crop production on a field by field basis. At the same time, the NGOs saw the program as an opportunity to bring farmland into regional-scale conservation plans.
Satisfying this interest in developing a conservation standard for the eco-label was challenging for researchers because fewer precedents existed. Even the largest and most well-known eco-label, USDA Organic, does not include a conservation requirement in its certification standards.
Zedler and his colleagues looked to the Nature Conservancy, which had established a system for making strategic conservation decisions and measuring conservation success at sites where the objective is to improve biodiversity on whatever land can be spared from intensive human use.
Potato farms in central Wisconsin are unusual in their tendency to contain significant patches of marginal land without crops because these patches cannot be irrigated – a necessary factor in growing potatoes. The result is a complex mosaic of land in which remnant patches of disturbed natural habitat are isolated within an agricultural matrix. Zedler and his colleagues focused their research efforts on these patches of non-crop land.
Their research suggests that prescribed burns and control of invasive plant species can help restore disturbed non-crop land to the habitats that characterized central Wisconsin before European settlement: prairie, oak-pine savannah, and sedge meadow.
Thus far, the Healthy Grown program has restored more than 400 acres of privately owned farmland. According to Zedler and his colleagues, farmers’ strong ties to their land motivate their commitment to the conservation standard of the Healthy Grown eco-label.
Zedler, P. H., T. Anchor, D. Knuteson, C. Gratton, and J. Barzen. 2009. Using an ecolabel to promote on-farm conservation: the Wisconsin Healthy Grown experience. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 7(1): 61-74. DOI:10.3763/ijas.2009.0394
(Image courtesy of FotoosVanRobin at flickr under a Creative Commons license)