Environmental Management

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 17–27 | Cite as

Diversity in Current Ecological Thinking: Implications for Environmental Management

  • Susan A. Moore
  • Tabatha J. Wallington
  • Richard J. Hobbs
  • Paul R. Ehrlich
  • C. S. Holling
  • Simon Levin
  • David Lindenmayer
  • Claudia Pahl-Wostl
  • Hugh Possingham
  • Monica G. Turner
  • Mark Westoby


Current ecological thinking emphasizes that systems are complex, dynamic, and unpredictable across space and time. What is the diversity in interpretation of these ideas among today’s ecologists, and what does this mean for environmental management? This study used a Policy Delphi survey of ecologists to explore their perspectives on a number of current topics in ecology. The results showed general concurrence with nonequilibrium views. There was agreement that disturbance is a widespread, normal feature of ecosystems with historically contingent responses. The importance of recognizing multiple levels of organization and the role of functional diversity in environmental change were also widely acknowledged. Views differed regarding the predictability of successional development, whether “patchiness” is a useful concept, and the benefits of shifting the focus from species to ecosystem processes. Because of their centrality to environmental management, these different views warrant special attention from both managers and ecologists. Such divergence is particularly problematic given widespread concerns regarding the poor linkages between science (here, ecology) and environmental policy and management, which have been attributed to scientific uncertainty and a lack of consensus among scientists, both jeopardizing the transfer of science into management. Several suggestions to help managers deal with these differences are provided, especially the need to interpret broader theory in the context of place-based assessments. The uncertainty created by these differences requires a proactive approach to environmental management, including clearly identifying environmental objectives, careful experimental design, and effective monitoring.


Contingency Landscape ecology Nonequilibrium ecology Policy Delphi survey Succession Uncertainty 



This research was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (Project ID No. DP0344978). This article is one of a number of publications from this project and includes articles published in BioScience and Ecology and Society. Contributions from Stuart Pimm and Mac Hunter to the early stages of this project, and assistance from Warren Tacey and Viki Cramer in the later stages of this project, are gratefully acknowledged as are the comments of this journal’s editor in chief and four anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan A. Moore
    • 1
  • Tabatha J. Wallington
    • 1
  • Richard J. Hobbs
    • 1
  • Paul R. Ehrlich
    • 2
  • C. S. Holling
    • 3
  • Simon Levin
    • 4
  • David Lindenmayer
    • 5
  • Claudia Pahl-Wostl
    • 6
  • Hugh Possingham
    • 7
  • Monica G. Turner
    • 8
  • Mark Westoby
    • 9
  1. 1.School of Environmental ScienceMurdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia
  2. 2.Center for Conservation Biology, Department of Biological SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyUniversity of FloridaCedar KeyUSA
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  5. 5.Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies (Bldg 43)Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  6. 6.Institute for Environmental Systems ResearchUniversity of OsnabrückOsnabrückGermany
  7. 7.The Ecology CentreUniversity of QueenslandSt. LuciaAustralia
  8. 8.Department of ZoologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  9. 9.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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