Environmental Management

, Volume 36, Issue 5, pp 625–639 | Cite as

Reflections in a Stock Pond: Are Anthropogenically Derived Freshwater Ecosystems Natural, Artificial, or Something Else?

  • Robert R. CrifasiEmail author


“A skyscraper is as natural as a bird’s nest” –Alan Watts

For millennia, people have altered freshwater ecosystems directly through water development and indirectly by global change and surrounding land-use activities. In these altered ecosystems, human impacts can be subtle and are sometimes overlooked by the people who manage them. This article provides two case studies near Boulder, Colorado that demonstrate how perceptions regarding these ecosystems affect their management. These examples are typical of lakes and streams along the Front Range of Colorado that are simultaneously natural and social in origin. Although natural, many of the region’s freshwater ecosystems are affected by ongoing ecologic, hydrologic, chemical, and geomorphic modifications produced by human activity. People and nature are both active participants in the production of these freshwater ecosystems. The concept of “hybridity,” borrowed from geographers and social scientists, is useful for describing landscapes of natural and social origin. Hybrid freshwater ecosystems are features of the humanized landscape and are derived from deliberate cultural activities, nonhuman physical and biological processes, and incidental anthropogenic disturbance. Our perceptions of “natural” freshwater ecosystems and what definitions we use to describe them influences our view of hybrid systems and, in turn, affects management decisions regarding them. This work stresses the importance of understanding the underlying societal forces and cultural values responsible for the creation of hybrid freshwater ecosystems as a central step in their conservation and management.


Freshwater ecosystems Hybrid ecosystems Hybrid freshwater ecosystems Human-dominated ecosystems Freshwater ecosystem conservation Altered ecosystems Political ecology 



When I contemplate the production of this manuscript, I realize that it, too, is something of a hybrid. Without the generous input and support of many individuals, this manuscript would never have been completed. To all of them I owe a great debt. In particular, I want to thank the editors of Environmental Management, including Virginia H. Dale and the four reviewers, Becky Mansfield, Morgan Robertson and two other reviewers who remain anonymous. I also want to thank Emily Yeh, Colleen Scanlan, and Jessica Lage at the University of Colorado, Boulder for their critical input and for making suggestions that have greatly strengthened the work. Additionally, I thank C. Morrison, T. Poviltis, G. E. Petts, and another individual who wishes to remain anonymous for providing helpful commentary on a very early prior incarnation of this draft. My gratitude is also extended to the City of Boulder for entrusting me with management responsibility on its extraordinary open space lands. All conclusions and opinions expressed in this article are mine alone.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain ParksBoulderUSA

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