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Novel ecosystems: theoretical and management aspects of the new ecological world order


*Correspondence: Richard J. Hobbs, School of Environmental Science, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia. E-mail:


We explore the issues relevant to those types of ecosystems containing new combinations of species that arise through human action, environmental change, and the impacts of the deliberate and inadvertent introduction of species from other regions. Novel ecosystems (also termed ‘emerging ecosystems’) result when species occur in combinations and relative abundances that have not occurred previously within a given biome. Key characteristics are novelty, in the form of new species combinations and the potential for changes in ecosystem functioning, and human agency, in that these ecosystems are the result of deliberate or inadvertent human action. As more of the Earth becomes transformed by human actions, novel ecosystems increase in importance, but are relatively little studied. Either the degradation or invasion of native or ‘wild’ ecosystems or the abandonment of intensively managed systems can result in the formation of these novel systems. Important considerations are whether these new systems are persistent and what values they may have. It is likely that it may be very difficult or costly to return such systems to their previous state, and hence consideration needs to be given to developing appropriate management goals and approaches.