SYMP 15-1
Natural is not enough: Expanding Leopold’s Quadrant in a world of change

Wednesday, August 12, 2015: 1:30 PM
309, Baltimore Convention Center
Stephen T. Jackson, Southwest Climate Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Tucson, AZ

Ecology has dual roots in natural history and in management of natural populations.  Long-standing tensions in ecology have existed between fundamental understanding of ‘natural’ ecosystems under minimal human influence and more practical understanding of how various ecological goods and services are or can be influenced by human activities and management.  Here in the early 21st Century, all ecosystems on the planet are managed systems, insofar as none can escape the climatic and geochemical influence of greenhouse-gas emissions.  Few ecosystems aren’t affected in some way by invasive species, nitrogen deposition, or land-use legacies.  Novel ecosystems are emerging, requiring management decisions along a spectrum ranging from intensive intervention to leaving them to develop on their own.  The pace and nature of climatic change may render most ecosystems novel within a few decades.  Ecological science hasn’t always kept up with the emerging reality that allecosystems are ultimately components, at various scales, of coupled natural-human systems.


Pursuit of fundamental knowledge of natural ecological processes and their consequences must continue to be a part of ecological science.  However, application of this knowledge, whether to -specific local management problems or to national or global policy, necessarily comprises an intersection between natural and human systems.  This intersection is often poorly understood by ecological researchers, and practices at the intersection are often opportunistic or improvised.  Ecological research, inspired by and relevant to user needs, should be amplified and complemented by clear understanding and open communication between the communities of research and the communities of practice.  The exchange of information and co-production of knowledge among these communities – in a domain designated here as Leopold’s Quadrant - represent a particularly important natural-human systems nexus, in need of detailed study to develop and refine effective practices.  The perspectives of coupled natural-human systems science are critical to effective application of knowledge in a rapidly changing world, and will provide current and coming generations of ecologists with challenges and opportunities, both scholarly and practical.