Looking Forward: The Future and Evolving Role of Ecology in Society



If a development strategy is ecologically sound, meaning that it is founded on ecological principles and is environmentally sustainable, then it qualifies as sustainable development, but qualifying as such makes no guarantees about whether it will or will not promote poverty reduction. There are, of course, different definitions of sustainable development, but a universal requirement for any development program to be sustainable is that its activities that are designed to meet the needs of the present generation will not jeopardize the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This requirement is akin to long-term (i.e., multigenerational) ecological stability where the water, nutrient, and energy needs of millions of species, on a global scale, are met generation after generation for tens to thousands of years. Because ecological systems appear globally to exhibit slow dynamics (Fig. 19.1), it makes sense that ecology is a science to which we might turn for understanding how to achieve environmental sustainability. To put it into an ecological perspective, consider Fig. 19.1, which compares the Holocene, the last 12 × 103 years, to what some call the Anthropocene (Crutzen 2002; Zalasiewcz et al. 2008; Steffen et al. 2009), which covers roughly (although, the starting date is debated) the last three centuries (more than that if the starting point is with the commencement of agriculture 10,000 years ago).


Sustainable Development Ecosystem Service Environmental Sustainability Poverty Reduction Sustainability Science 



I would like to thank J. Carter Ingram, Fabrice DeClerk, and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable input and critical reading of the manuscript. Sara Tjossem provided much needed editorial input.


  1. Adams, W. M., R. Aveling, D. Brockington, B. Dickson, J. Elliott, J. Hutton, D. Roe, B. Vira, and W. Wolmer. 2004. Biodiversity Conservation and the Eradication of Poverty. Science 306:1146–1149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alonso, D., R. S. Etienne, and A. J. McKane. 2006. The merits of neutral theory. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 21:451–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arrhenius, O. 1921. Species and Area. Journal of Ecology 9:95–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bussolo, M., R. De Hoyos, and D. Medvedev. 2009. Global income distribution and poverty in the absence of agricultural distortions.Google Scholar
  5. Cardinale, B. J., D. S. Srivastava, J. Emmett Duffy, J. P. Wright, A. L. Downing, M. Sankaran, and C. Jouseau. 2006. Effects of biodiversity on the functioning of trophic groups and ecosystems. Nature 443:989–992.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark, W. C. 2007. Sustainability Science: A room of its own. PNAS 104:1737–1738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Colwell, R. K. and E. R. Fuentes. 1975. Experimental studies of the niche. Annual Review of Ecology and Systemantics 6:281–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Crutzen, P. J. 2002. Geology of mankind. Nature 415:23–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Deckelbaum, R. J., C. Palm, P. Mutuo, and F. DeClerck. 2006. Econutrition: Implementation models from the Millennium Villages Project in Africa. Food and Nutrition Bulletin 27:335–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Elton, C. 1927. Animal ecology. MacMillan, New York.Google Scholar
  11. Fischer, J., A. D. Manning, W. Steffen, D. B. Rose, K. Daniell, A. Felton, S. Garnett, B. Gilna, R. Heinsohn, D. B. Lindenmayer, B. MacDonald, F. Mills, B. Newell, J. Reid, L. Robin, K. Sherren, and A. Wade. 2007. Mind the sustainability gap. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 22:621–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gleick, P. H. 1998. The human right to water. Water Policy 1:487–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Grinell, J. 1917. The niche-relationships of the California Thrasher. Auk 34:427–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hanski, I. and M. Gyllenberg. 1997. Uniting two general patterns in the distribution of species. Science 275:397–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Harte, J. and A. P. Kinzig. 1997. On the implications of species-area relationships for endemism, spatial turnover, and food web patterns. Oikos 80:417–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Harte, J., A. B. Smith, and D. Storch. 2009. Biodiversity scales from plots to biomes with a universal species area curve. Ecology Letters 12:789–797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hattenschwiler, S. and P. Gasser. 2005. Soil animals alter plant litter diversity effects on decomposition. PNAS 102:1519–1524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. He, F. and P. Legendre. 2002. Species diversity patterns derived from species-are models. Ecology 83:1185–1198.Google Scholar
  19. Holdren, J. P. 2008. PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS: Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being. Science 319:424–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hooper, D. U., F. S. Chapin III, J. J. Ewel, A. Hector, P. Inchausti, S. Lavorel, J. H. Lawton, D. M. Lodge, M. Loreau, S. Naeem, B. Schmid, H. Setälä, A. J. Symstad, J. Vandermeer, and D. A. Wardle. 2005. Effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning: a consensus of current knowledge and needs for future research. Ecological Monographs 75:3–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hubbell, S. P. 2001. The Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity and Biogeography. Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  22. Hubbell, S. P. 2005. Neutral theory in community ecology and the hypothesis of functional equivalence. Functional Ecology 19:166–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hutchinson, G. E. 1978. An introduction to population ecology. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.Google Scholar
  24. Jackson, R. B., S. R. Carpenter, C. N. Dahm, D. M. McKnight, R. J. Naiman, S. L. Postel, and S. W. Running. 2001. Water in a changing world. Ecological Applicaitons 11:1027–1045.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jones, C. G., J. H. Lawton, and M. Shachak. 1994. Organisms as ecosystem engineers. Oikos 69:373–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kareiva, P., S. Watts, R. McDonald, and T. Boucher. 2007. Domesticated Nature: Shaping Landscapes and Ecosystems for Human Welfare. Science 316:1866–1869.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kasina, J. M., J. Mburu, M. Kraemer, and K. Holm-Mueller. 2009. Economic Benefit of Crop Pollina­tion by Bees: A Case of Kakamega Small-Holder Farming in Western Kenya. Journal of Economic Entomology 102:467–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kates, R. W. and T. M. Parris. 2003. Science and Technology for Sustainable Development Special Feature: Long-term trends and a sustainability transition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100:8062–8067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kinzig, A., S. W. Pacala, and D. Tilman, editors. 2002. The functional consequences of biodiversity: Empirical Progress and Theoretical Extensions. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  30. Kremen, C., N. M. Williams, M. A. Aizen, B. Gemmill-Herren, G. LeBuhn, R. Minckley, L. Packer, S. G. Potts, T. a. Roulston, I. Steffan-Dewenter, D. P. Vazquez, R. Winfree, L. Adams, E. E. Crone, S. S. Greenleaf, T. H. Keitt, A.-M. Klein, J. Regetz, and T. H. Ricketts. 2007. Pollination and other ecosystem services produced by mobile organisms: a conceptual framework for the effects of land-use change. Ecology Letters 10:299–314.Google Scholar
  31. Laland, K. N. and K. Sterelny. 2006. Perspective: Seven reasons (not) to neglect niche construction. Evolution 60:1751–1762.Google Scholar
  32. Larsen, T. H., N. M. Williams, and C. Kremen. 2005. Extinction order and altered community structure rapidly disrupt ecosystem functioning. Ecology Letters 8:538–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lewis, M. W. 1992. Green delusions : an environmentalist critique of radical environmentalism. Duke University Press, Durham.Google Scholar
  34. Liebold, M. A. 1995. The niche concept revisited: mechanistic models and community context. Ecology 76:1371–1382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Limpert, E., W. A. Stahel, and M. Abbt. 2001. Log-normal Distributions across the Sciences: Keys and Clues. BioScience 51:341–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Loreau, M., S. Naeem, and P. Inchausti, editors. 2002. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning: Synthesis and Perspectives. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  37. Lubchenco, J., A. M. Olson, L. B. Brubaker, S. R. Carpenter, M. M. Holland, S. P. Hubbell, S. A. Levin, J. A. MacMahon, P. A. Matson, J. M. Melillo, H. A. Mooney, C. H. Peterson, H. R. Pulliam, L. A. Real, P. J. Regal, and P. G. Risser. 1991. The sustainable biosphere initiative: an ecological research agenda. Ecology 72:371–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. MacArthur, R. H. 1960. On the relative abundance of species. American Naturalist 94:25–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Marco, D. 2008. Metagenomics and the niche concept. Theory in Biosciences 127:241–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. May, R. M. 1975. Patterns of species abundance and diversity. Pages 81-120 in M. L. Cody and J. M. Diamond, editors. Ecology and evolution of communities. Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  41. MEA, M. E. A. 2003. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: A Framework for Assessment. Island Press.Google Scholar
  42. MEA, M. E. A. 2005a. Ecosystems and Human Well-being. Island Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  43. MEA, M. E. A. 2005b. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Current State and Trends: Findings of the Condition and Trends Working Group (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Series). Island Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  44. Mooney, H. and G. Mace. 2009. Biodiversity Policy Challenges. Science 325:1474.Google Scholar
  45. Naeem, S., D. E. Bunker, A. Hector, M. Loreau, and C. Perrings, editors. 2009a. Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functioning, and Human Wellbeing: An Ecological and Economic Perspective. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  46. Naeem, S., D. E. Bunker, A. Hector, M. Loreau, and C. Perrings. 2009b. Introduction: the ecological and social implications of changing biodiversity. An overview of a decade of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning research. Pages 1–13 in S. Naeem, D. E. Bunker, A. Hector, M. Loreau, and C. Perrings, editors. Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functioning, and Human Wellbeing: An Ecological and Economic Perspective. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  47. Naeem, S., L. J. Thompson, S. P. Lawler, J. H. Lawton, and R. M. Woodfin. 1994. Declining biodiversity can alter the performance of ecosystems. Nature 368:734–737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. National Research Council, B. o. S. D., Policy Division. 2000. Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  49. Plotkin, J. B., M. D. Potts, D. W. Yu, S. Bunyavejchewin, R. Condit, R. Foster, S. Hubbell, J. LaFrankie, N. Manokaran, L. H. Seng, R. Sukumar, M. A. Nowak, and P. S. Ashton. 2000. Predicting species diversity in tropical forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 97:10850–10854.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Postel, S. L., G. C. Daily, and P. R. Ehrlich. 1996. Human Appropriation of Renewable Fresh Water. Science 271:785–788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Preston, F. W. 1950. Gas Laws and Wealth Laws. The Scientific Monthly 71:309–311.Google Scholar
  52. Preston, F. W. 1962. The canonical distribution of commonness and rarity. Ecology 43:185–215 & 410–432.Google Scholar
  53. Richter, B. D., R. Mathews, D. L. Harrison, and R. Wigington. 2003. Ecologically sustainable water management: managing river flows for ecological integrity. Ecological Applications 13: 206–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rocheleau, D. E. 1991. Gender, ecology, and the science of survival: Stories and lessons from Kenya. Agriculture and Human Values 8:156–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rockstrom, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, A. Persson, F. S. Chapin, E. F. Lambin, T. M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, C. Folke, H. J. Schellnhuber, B. Nykvist, C. A. de Wit, T. Hughes, S. van der Leeuw, H. Rodhe, S. Sorlin, P. K. Snyder, R. Costanza, U. Svedin, M. Falkenmark, L. Karlberg, R. W. Corell, V. J. Fabry, J. Hansen, B. Walker, D. Liverman, K. Richardson, P. Crutzen, and J. A. Foley. 2009. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461:472–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sachs, J. D. 2004. Sustainable Development. Science 304:649.Google Scholar
  57. Sachs, J. D., J. E. M. Baillie, W. J. Sutherland, P. R. Armsworth, N. Ash, J. Beddington, T. M. Blackburn, B. Collen, B. Gardiner, K. J. Gaston, H. C. J. Godfray, R. E. Green, P. H. Harvey, B. House, S. Knapp, N. F. Kumpel, D. W. Macdonald, G. M. Mace, J. Mallet, A. Matthews, R. M. May, O. Petchey, A. Purvis, D. Roe, K. Safi, K. Turner, M. Walpole, R. Watson, and K. E. Jones. 2009. Biodiversity Conservation and the Millennium Development Goals. Science 325:1502–1503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schroeder, R. A. 1993. Shady Practice: Gender and the Political Ecology of Resource Stabilization in Gambian Garden/Orchards. Economic Geography 69:349–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Schulze, E. D. and H. A. Mooney, editors. 1993. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function. Springer Verlag, New York.Google Scholar
  60. Schwartz, M. W., C. A. Brigham, J. D. Hoeksema, K. G. Lyons, M. H. Mills, and P. J. van Mantgem. 2000. Linking biodiversity to ecosystem function: implications for conservation ecology. Oecologia 122:297–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Srivastava, D. S. and M. Vellend. 2005. BIODIVERSITY-ECOSYSTEM FUNCTION RESEARCH: Is It Relevant to Conservation? Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 36:267–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Steffen, W., P. J. Crutzen, and J. R. McNeill. 2009. The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 36:614–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Storch, D., K. L. Evans, and K. J. Gaston. 2005. The species-area-energy relationship. Ecology Letters 8:487–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sugihara, G. 1980. Minimal community structure: an explanation of species abundance patterns. American Naturalist 116:770–787.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Vandermeer, J., I. Perfecto, and S. M. Philpott. 2008. Clusters of ant colonies and robust criticality in a tropical agroecosystem. Nature 451:457–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Walker, B., S. Barrett, S. Polasky, V. Galaz, C. Folke, G. Engstrom, F. Ackerman, K. Arrow, S. Carpenter, K. Chopra, G. Daily, P. Ehrlich, T. Hughes, N. Kautsky, S. Levin, K.-G. Maler, J. Shogren, J. Vincent, T. Xepapadeas, and A. de Zeeuw. 2009. Looming Global-Scale Failures and Missing Institutions. Science 325:1345–1346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Walpole, M., R. E. A. Almond, C. Besancon, S. H. M. Butchart, D. Campbell-Lendrum, G. M. Carr, B. Collen, L. Collette, N. C. Davidson, E. Dulloo, A. M. Fazel, J. N. Galloway, M. Gill, T. Goverse, M. Hockings, D. J. Leaman, D. H. W. Morgan, C. Revenga, C. J. Rickwood, F. Schutyser, S. Simons, A. J. Stattersfield, T. D. Tyrrell, J.-C. Vie, and M. Zimsky. 2009. Tracking Progress Toward the 2010 Biodiversity Target and Beyond. Science 325:1503–1504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Watson, R. T. and A. H. Zakhri. 2005. Living beyond our means:Natural assensts and human well-being, Statement of the Board. United Nations.Google Scholar
  69. WCED, 1987. Our Common Future, Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  70. Williams-Guillen, K., I. Perfecto, and J. Vandermeer. 2008. Bats Limit Insects in a Neotropical Agroforestry System. Science 320:70.Google Scholar
  71. Williamson, M. and K. J. Gaston. 2005. The lognormal distribution is not an appropriate null hypothesis for the species–abundance distribution. Journal of Animal Ecology 74:409–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Worm, B., E. B. Barbier, N. Beaumont, J. E. Duffy, C. Folke, B. S. Halpern, J. B. C. Jackson, H. K. Lotze, F. Micheli, S. R. Palumbi, E. Sala, K. A. Selkoe, J. J. Stachowicz, and R. Watson. 2006. Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services. Science 314:787–790.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wright, D. H. 1983. Species-energy theory: an extension of species-area theory. Oikos 41:496–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wylie, J. L. and D. J. Currie. 1993a. Species-energy theory and patterns of species richness: I. Patterns of bird, angiosperm, and mammal species richness on islands. Biological Conservation 63:137–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Wylie, J. L. and D. J. Currie. 1993b. Species-energy theory and patterns of species richness: II. Predicting mammal species richness on isolated nature reserves. Biological Conservation 63:145–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Zalasiewcz, J., M. Williams, A. B. Smith, L. T. Barry, A. L. Coe, P. R. Brown, P. Brenchley, D. Cantrill, A. Gale, P. Gibbard, F. J. Gregory, M. W. Hounslow, A. C. JKer, P. Pearson, R. Knox, J. Powell, C. Waters, J. Marshall, M. Oates, P. Rawson, and P. Stone. 2008. Are we now living in the Anthropocene? GSA Today 18:4–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology & Center for Environmental Research and ConservationColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations