Ecological processes: A key element in strategies for nature conservation


  • Andrew F. Bennett,

  • Angie Haslem,

  • David C. Cheal,

  • Michael F. Clarke,

  • Roger N. Jones,

  • John D. Koehn,

  • P. Sam Lake,

  • Linda F. Lumsden,

  • Ian D. Lunt,

  • Brendan G. Mackey,

  • Ralph Mac Nally,

  • Peter W. Menkhorst,

  • Tim R. New,

  • Graeme R. Newell,

  • Tim O’Hara,

  • Gerry P. Quinn,

  • James Q. Radford,

  • Doug Robinson,

  • James E. M. Watson,

  • Alan L. Yen

  • This paper arose from several workshops at which a group of ecologists were invited to think about new directions in nature conservation and ecological management in Victoria, stimulated by a governmental review of directions for conservation in the state over the next 20–50 years.

Andrew F. Bennett, Angie Haslem, Gerry P. Quinn and James Q. Radford, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University (221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Vic. 3125, Australia; Tel: +61 (3) 92517609; Email: David C. Cheal, John D. Koehn, Linda F. Lumsden, Peter W. Menkhorst and Graeme R. Newell, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Sustainability & Environment (123 Brown Street, Heidelberg, Vic. 3084, Australia). Michael F. Clarke and Tim R. New, Department of Zoology, La Trobe University (Bundoora, Vic. 3086, Australia). Roger N. Jones, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research (Private Bag No. 1, Aspendale, Vic. 3195, Australia). P. Sam Lake and Ralph Mac Nally, Australian Centre for Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, (Vic. 3800, Australia). Ian D. Lunt, Institute for Land, Water & Society, Charles Sturt University (Albury, NSW 2640, Australia). Brendan G. Mackey and James E. M. Watson, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University (Canberra 0200, Australia). Tim O’Hara, Museum Victoria (GPO Box 666, Melbourne, Vic. 3001, Australia). Doug Robinson, Trust for Nature (PO Box 124 Benalla, Vic. 3672, Australia). Alan L. Yen, Department of Primary Industries (621 Burwood Highway, Knoxfield, Vic. 3180, Australia).


Summary  A common approach to nature conservation is to identify and protect natural ‘assets’ such as ecosystems and threatened species. While such actions are essential, protection of assets will not be effective unless the ecological processes that sustain them are maintained. Here, we consider the role of ecological processes and the complementary perspective for conservation arising from an emphasis on process. Many kinds of ecological processes sustain biodiversity: including climatic processes, primary productivity, hydrological processes, formation of biophysical habitats, interactions between species, movements of organisms and natural disturbance regimes. Anthropogenic threats to conservation exert their influence by modifying or disrupting these processes. Such threats extend across tenures, they frequently occur offsite, they commonly induce non-linear responses, changes may be irreversible and the full consequences may not be experienced for lengthy periods. While many managers acknowledge these considerations in principle, there is much scope for greater recognition of ecological processes in nature conservation and greater emphasis on long time-frames and large spatial scales in conservation planning. Practical measures that promote ecological processes include: monitoring to determine the trajectory and rate of processes; incorporating surrogates for processes in conservation and restoration projects; specific interventions to manipulate and restore processes; and planning for the ecological future before options are foreclosed. The long-term conservation of biodiversity and the well-being of human society depend upon both the protection of natural assets and maintaining the integrity of the ecological processes that sustain them.