The reality confronting ecosystem managers today is one of heterogeneous, rapidly transforming landscapes, particularly in the areas more affected by urban and agricultural development. Landscapes are increasingly composed of a mix of different alteration states, with some that are little changed to others that are completely modified. Species’ responses to climate and land use change are also resulting in novel mixes of species, some of which persist in the altered environment and some of which move or are moved by humans. These altered settings create challenges for traditional conservation and restoration practice, and many alternative approaches are being canvassed and trailed.
From an ecological standpoint, how will these novel ecosystems and assemblages work? How will combinations of pre-existing and novel species interact, and how will this affect overall ecosystem functioning (and hence ecosystem services)? From a conservation/restoration standpoint, what is the value of these novel assemblages and what should be done about them? This latter question has resulted in heated debates that cut to the quick of established ideas in conservation and restoration. These debates are still being worked through and some feel that the very future of conservation and restoration rests on the resolution of the core questions being asked.
Resolving these questions depends on open debate and assessment of alternative goals and approaches. Attempts to downplay the importance of considering alternative options for managing altered systems ignore the real need to work out what useful and cost-effective options might be. This does not entail throwing out existing practices and policies, but rather expanding the portfolio of possible intervention options. A landscape management framework that incorporates all systems, across the spectrum of degrees of alteration, can provide a fuller set of options for how and when to intervene, uses limited resources more effectively, and increases the chances of achieving management goals. Similarly, a strategic approach is required to selecting options for managing species, both individually and collectively, in relation to environmental change. An integrated approach to management interventions can provide options that are in tune with the current reality of rapid ecosystem change.