Good News: Most Ecosystems Can Recover in One Lifetime from Human-Induced or Natural Disturbance


photo: Partners for Fish and Wildlife via flickr.

There's a reason the phrase "let nature take its course" exists: New research done at the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Science reinforces the idea that ecosystems are quiet resilient and can rebound from pollution and environmental degradation. Published in the journal PLoS ONE, the study shows that most damaged ecosystems worldwide can recover within a single lifetime, if the source of pollution is removed and restoration work done:Forests Take Longest of Ecosystems Studied
The analysis found that on average forest ecosystems can recover in 42 years, while in takes only about 10 years for the ocean bottom to recover. If an area has seen multiple, interactive disturbances, it can take on average 56 years for recovery. In general, most ecosystems take longer to recover from human-induced disturbances than from natural events, such as hurricanes.

To reach these recovery averages, the researchers looked at data from peer-reviewed studies over the past 100 years on the rate of ecosystem recovery once the source of pollution was removed.

Interestingly, the researchers found that it appears that the rate at which an ecosystem recovers may be independent of its degraded condition: Aquatic systems may recover more quickly than, say, a forest, because the species and organisms that live in that ecosystem turn over more rapidly than in the forest.


Average recovery times by ecosystem type (top), disturbance (bottom). Image: PLoS ONE
Ecosystem Restoration Possible, and Justified
As to what this all means, Oswald Schmitz, professor of ecology at Yale and report co-author, says that this analysis shows that an increased effort to restore damaged ecosystems is justified, and that:

Restoration could become a more important tool in the management portfolio of conservation organizations that are entrusted to protect habitats on landscapes.

We recognize that humankind has and will continue to actively domesticate nature to meet its own needs. The message of our paper is that recovery is possible and can be rapid for many ecosystems, giving much hope for a transition to sustainable management of global ecosystems.

Read the original: Rapid Recovery of Damaged Ecosystems
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Tags: Conservation | Deforestation | Pollution

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