, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 44–53 | Cite as

Trade: A Driver of Present and Future Ecosystems

  • Michael L. PaceEmail author
  • Jessica A. Gephart
20th Anniversary Paper


Growing trade among nations is globalizing economies and driving environmental change. As a consequence, trade affects ecosystems, but trade is not currently a major topic in ecosystem research based on a survey of ecological journals. This survey reveals trade is rarely a title word or topic except for studies considering the movement of species or sustainability. However, when trade is considered at large scales, ecosystem mass balances are significantly influenced by traded products such as the nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers and livestock feeds. Trade also depletes resource species leading to ecosystem alterations such as the elimination of large predators and filter feeders in aquatic ecosystems and landscape conversion with attendant changes in biogeochemistry and biodiversity in terrestrial ecosystems. Trade is a source of alien species introductions. Trade also creates telecouplings among distant locations that cause changes in ecosystems including changes that may affect whether an ecosystem is a source or sink in relation to atmospheric carbon dioxide. There is a need for improved data tracing traded products, understanding the linkages of trade between ecosystem sources and sinks, and developing new methods and models to analyze trade impacts. Studies of trade impacts in relation to questions about changing ecological processes and the trajectory of ecosystems represent an important frontier.


trade ecosystems mass balance alien species telecoupling resource depletion 



This work was supported by NSF Grant DEB1456151 and an NSF graduate research fellowship. We thank the “Footprint Group” at the University of Virginia for stimulating our interest in the topic of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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