Complementarity Considers Ecological Principles to Create Sustainable Pathways
Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 1:30 PM-3:30 PM
101E, Minneapolis Convention Center
Clarence L. Lehman
Ecological principles can be used to design a more sustainable future through “complementarity” in ecosystem services. For instance, corn fields inevitably emit nitrogen. With judicious landscape design, those fields can supply an otherwise unintended ecosystem service to neighboring grasslands, forests, and similar systems needing nitrogen. Those systems in turn can provide ecosystem services to an emerging bioenergy industry by complementing, rather than competing with, food production.
Natural systems that have existed under evolutionary pressures for some time tend not to “leak” significantly. Instead, excess nitrogen and other nutrients become resources which other organisms can use. But our own ecosystems, from cities to corn fields, do not have such a long-term evolutionary advantage nor the advantage of ecologically informed composition. This EPA Ignite session will explore systems where detrimental or benign excesses occur---in space, waste, time---and how they can be taken advantage of in other systems.
Importantly, this is a call to extend beyond conservation. Complementarity uses ecosystem properties honed on evolutionary timescales to carve a more sustainable path for anthropogenic systems. Through reflections of conceivable future directions, we want to help ecologists formulate visions that integrate ecosystem services---to help our society anticipate and meet the needs of a planet that is sustainable for ourselves and for the diverse ecosystems on which we depend.