• Open Access

Leak Plugging and Clog Removal: Useful Metaphors for Conservation and Restoration


  • James Aronson,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CNRS-UMR 5175), France
    2. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
    • Correspondance

      James Aronson, Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CNRS-UMR 5175), 1919, Route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier, France. Tel: +33 (0) 467613218; fax +33 (0) 467613336. E-mail: james.aronson@cefe.cnrs.fr

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  • Carolina Murcia,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
    2. Organization for Tropical Studies, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
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  • Luis Balaguer

    1. Departamento de Biología Vegetal I, Facultad de Biología, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, José Antonio Novais, Spain
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  • Editor Mark Colyvan


Metaphors are common in our ecological and conservation language. They help us understand complex issues and communicate them to different audiences. We propose two new metaphors: ecosystem leaks and ecosystem clogs that can help us understand the role of flows among ecosystems (inflows and outflows), the impacts of anthropogenic perturbations of these flows within and beyond ecosystem boundaries. They help us grasp the need for a broader outlook in restoration and conservation that goes beyond the ecosystem level. We define an ecosystem leak as any net loss of natural capital from any ecosystem with the potential of exerting a long-term transformative effect. As its name implies, an ecosystem clog is the opposite of a leak, and we define it as a total or partial obstruction in the flows of natural capital within an ecosystem, or between ecosystems. Leaks can create clogs, and vice versa, and they can occur in cyclic succession causing cascading effects that affect not just the natural capital of an ecosystem, but its social and cultural capital as well. We focus on anthropogenic leaks and clogs as these are the ones for which society does not invest adequate attention and efforts.