Earth Makers

The Ancient Practice of Ecosystem Creation


1. For example, Peter Vitousek, Nutrient Cycling and Limitation: Hawai‘i as a Model System, Princeton University Press, 2004); see also John J. Ewel, et al., “Islands: Where novelty is the norm,” in Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order, eds. Richard J. Hobbs, et al. (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2013).

2. Anne Ehrlich and Paul Ehrlich, Extinction (New York: Random House, 1981). 

3. Peter Ward, The End of Evolution (New York: Bantam, 1994). Ward is one of the first to treat human influence on the biosphere as a mass extinction-level event. Because our knowledge of other extinction events has increased, current treatments detail five past mass extinctions, with human influence possibly causing a sixth; for example, Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2014).

4. Richard J. Hobbs, et al., (eds.) Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2013). 

5. Dov F. Sax and Steven D. Gaines, “Species diversity: from global decreases to local increases,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 18, no. 11 (2003).

6. A rite of passage for “environmental” scientists. Many control measures for introduced species reach militarism in the extreme. The Nature Conservancy funds a “stinger” delivery of herbicide via helicopter sorties. In the past, herbicide-filled paintball guns were used.

7. Joseph Mascaro, “Eighty Years of Succession in a Noncommercial Plantation on Hawaii Island: Are Native Species Returning?” Pacific Science 65, no. 1 (2011).

8. Notable in that it is not basaltic lava, which is the substrate that builds most of the Pacific Islands. New Caledonia became an island when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

9. A “hole” in Hawaiian. As lava flows, it burns and scars forest ecosystems. Occasionally, a flow will fork as it makes its way down the volcanic slopes. A divot will remain, bottled off from introduced rats and pigs, where native plants can continue to thrive.

10. Paul Alan Cox, “Extinction of the Hawaiian avifauna resulted in a chance of pollinators for the ieie, Freycinetia arborea,” Oikos 41, no. 2 (1983).

11. Jeffrey T. Foster and Scott K. Robinson, “Introduced birds and the fate of Hawaiian rainforests,” Conservation Biology 21, no. 5 (2007).

12. Joseph Mascaro, “From Rivets to Rivers,” in Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order, eds. Richard J. Hobbs, et al. (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2013).

13. David A. Wardle, et al., “Terrestrial ecosystem responses to species gains and losses,” Science 332, no. 6053 (2011).

14. Stephen H. Spurr, “The Value of Wilderness to Science,” in Tomorrow’s Wilderness, ed. Francoise Leydet (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1963).

15. Henry A. Gleason, “The individualistic concept of the plant association,” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 53, no. 1 (1926).

16. Frederic E. Clements, “Plant Succession: an Analysis of the Development of Vegetation,” Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication, 242 (1916).

17. Spurr, 1963.

18. For North America and Europe, see Hazel R. Delcourt, et al., “Dynamic plant ecology: the spectrum of vegetational change in space and time,” Quaternary Science Reviews 1, no. 3 (1982); Margaret Bryan Davis, “Quaternary history and the stability of forest communities,” in Forest Succession: Concept and Applications, eds. Darrell C. West, et al. (New York: Springer, 1981), 132–152; and Margaret Bryan Davis, “Quaternary history of deciduous forests of Eastern North America and Europe,” Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 70, vol. 5 (1983). For a broader review, see Stephen T. Jackson, “Vegetation, environment, and time: the origination and termination of ecosystems,” Journal of Vegetation Science 17, no. 5 (2006).

19. This observation is sometimes taken to the extreme for those that suggest abandoning the ecosystem concept entirely. It is a fine concept, in my view, so long as it reflects the sound theoretical architecture of the individualistic model. See Robert V. O’Neill, “Is it time to bury the ecosystem concept? (With full military honors, of course!)” Ecology 82, no. 12 (2001).

20. Hazel R. Delcourt, Forests in Peril: Tracking Deciduous Trees from Ice-age Refuges into the Greenhouse World  (Blacksburg, VA: The McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, 2002).

21. The term first appears in F. Stuart Chapin, III, and Anthony M. Starfield, “Time lags and novel ecosystems in response to transient climatic change in arctic Alaska,” Climatic Change 35, no. 4 (1997). Widespread adoption began with Richard J. Hobbs, et al., “Novel ecosystems: theoretical and management aspects of the new ecological world order,” Global Ecology and Biogeography 15, no. 1 (2006). Detractors include Carolina Murcia, et al., “A critique of the ‘novel ecosystem’ concept,” Trends in Ecology and the Environment 29, no. 10 (2014).

22. Joseph Mascaro, et al., “Origins of the Novel Ecosystems Concept,” in Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order, eds. Richard J. Hobbs, et al. (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2013).

23. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and human well-being: biodiversity synthesis (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 2005).

24. Biological diversity is mechanistically tied to ecosystem functions such as productivity and nutrient turnover, primarily through two mechanisms: the “selection” effect and niche complementarity; for details, see Joseph Fargione, et al., “From selection to complementarity: shifts in the causes of biodiversity-productivity relationships in a long-term biodiversity experiment,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274, no. 1611 (2007). Although introduced species change the relative importance of these two processes, their effects nonetheless follow from the same set of rules. For Hawaii, see Joseph Mascaro, et al., “Novel forests maintain ecosystem processes after the decline of native species,” Ecological Monographs 82, no. 2 (2012). See also Brian J. Wilsey, et al., “Biodiversity maintenance mechanisms differ between native and novel exotic-dominated communities,” Ecology Letters 12, no. 5 (2009).

25. This pattern can be seen on the Kapoho flow of 1960 on Hawaii Island. Ironwood is one of several introduced nitrogen-fixing trees that accelerate succession, for both native and introduced trees. See Joseph Mascaro, et al., “Limited native plant regeneration in novel, exotic-dominated forests on Hawai‘i,” Forest Ecology and Management 256: 593–606 (2008); Peter Vitousek and Lawrence Walker, “Biological invasion by Myricafaya in Hawai‘i: plant demography, nitrogen fixation, ecosystem effects,” Ecological Monographs 59, no. 3 (1989); R. Flint Hughes and Julie S. Denslow, “Invasion by a N2-fixing tree alters function and structure in wet lowland forests of Hawaii,” Ecological Applications 15, no. 5 (2005).

26. Daniel Simberloff and Betsy Von Holle, “Positive interactions among nonindigenous species: invasional meltdown?” Biological Invasions 1, no. 1 (1999).

27. See Mark A. Davis, et al., “Charles S. Elton and the dissociation of invasion ecology from the rest of ecology,” Diversity and Distributions 7, no. 1–2 (2001); J. Baird Callicott, “Choosing appropriate temporal and spatial scales for ecological restoration,” Journal of Biosciences 27, no. 4 (2002), 409–420.

28. Elizabeth Svoboda, “The Unintended Consequences of Changing Nature’s Balance,” New York Times, February 16, 2009.

29. Murcia, 2014.

30. Compared to Stromatolites—who reigned for two billion years and oxygenated our atmosphere—we look like King Edward VIII: brief, fraternizing, and indecisive.

31. Hobbs, et al., 2013.

32. John J. Ewel and Francis E. Putz, “A place for alien species in ecosystem restoration,” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2, no. 7 (2004), 354–360.

33. Jennifer L. Funk, et al., “Restoration through reassembly: plant traits and invasion resistance,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23, no. 12 (2008), 695–703.

34. John W. Williams and Stephen T. Jackson, “Novel climates, no-analog communities, and ecological surprises,” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5, no. 9 (2007), 475–482.