Bridging paleo- and neo- perspectives in conservation management: A tale of two mountain landscapes
Paleoecological approaches have contributed considerably to our understanding of species’ adaptation to changes in climate and disturbances at broad spatial and temporal scales. Contemporary approaches in conservation management, which are increasingly aimed at fostering ecosystem resilience under climate change, require a perspective that integrates both paleo- and neo- perspectives. More generally, understanding how biodiversity is generated and sustained is increasingly critical to inform conservation strategies that strive to meet global biodiversity targets and optimize landscape connectivity. Overlying these patterns are projected changes in disturbance regimes that are likely to mediate patterns at finer spatial and temporal scales. However, a theoretical framework that integrates paleo- and neo- perspectives for managing ecological resilience is lacking. Here we explore forests in mountainous terrain in the Eastern and Western U.S. (Appalachian Trail and Yellowstone National Park landscapes) to illustrate the importance of slow variables (i.e., topography) and relatively fast variables (i.e., fire) that underlie historical and contemporary species distributions and nutrient cycling patterns.
Metrics related to topographic complexity were found to be predictive of biodiversity patterns in the Appalachian region (r>0.69). Results indicated that landscape metrics describing physical patterns can be useful to identify places where the physical setting is inherently supportive of migratory adaptation at relatively broad scales. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, multi-century scale fire history governs contemporary patterns in carbon and nitrogen storage, but future fire regimes are likely to deviate from patterns recorded in the Quaternary. In both cases, heterogeneity in biodiversity and biogeochemical processes is evident at multiple spatial scales and is likely driven by interactions of both fast and slow variables. We conclude that resilience is best framed using a multi-scalar approach that integrates these multiple temporal and spatial perspectives. When considered holistically, concepts of panarchy and complex systems, socio-ecological theory, and landscape ecology are likely to be useful in emerging perspectives in landscape-level resilience.