Towards sustainability? Using long-term data to manage ecosystem services
Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in a changing environment requires a temporal perspective that informs realistic restoration and management targets. The integration of long-term perspectives into adaptive ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation has begun, and concrete examples of applied palaeoecology and historical ecology are now starting to emerge in ecosystem management, particularly in freshwater resources, restoration ecology, fire management, and forest conservation. Long-term perspectives can contribute to the sustainable management of ecosystem services by providing insight into the range of variability and resilience of ecosystems, thereby potentially informing management targets. Such targets need to be dynamic, adaptive, and responsive to changing boundary conditions.
Cross-cutting frameworks are needed that incorporate ecosystem dynamics at decadal to millennial timescales. Adaptive ecosystem management provides an ideal interface between long-term ecology, conservation ecology and sustainability science. For example, the historical range of variability can inform the development of realistic management thresholds (Thresholds of Potential Concern), which accommodate flux while maintaining ecological integrity. These management thresholds can help in restoring and maintaining ecosystem services.
Long-term changes in ecosystem services can be incorporated into the broader biodiversity conservation and sustainability arena, because ecosystem services such as water provision, biodiversity, carbon storage, and climate regulation, underpin agriculture, forestry, pastoralism, and other livelihoods. Frameworks linking long-term data and sustainability science allow consideration of how ecosystem variability affects human well-being through effects on livelihoods, and also the cultural, societal, aesthetic, and recreational aspirations of societies.
Planning realistic management targets and implementing adaptive management cycles will depend on the linkage between changing ecosystem services, stakeholder preferences, social, and economic drivers in the context of local, national, and international policy, such as commitments to biodiversity conservation, carbon emissions reductions, and sustainability. Further work is needed to extend the generally short-term nature of conservation management plans and policy goals, as well is in improving the accessibility of palaeo-data to non-specialists.