Ecologically Sustainable Natural Resource Management Can Protect Evolutionary Processes

To be ecologically sustainable, management of natural resources must protect the ecological integrity of ecosystems, including their biodiversity, so that the evolutionary processes that generated these ecosystems can be maintained in the future. This will increase the likelihood that these ecosystems will be able to evolve in response to changing global conditions [16,20], especially because it is difficult to predict with certainty the characteristics of future terrestrial and aquatic environments [21]. For example, maintaining habitat connectivity (through wildlife corridors, for instance) can help ensure a beneficial exchange of genetic material among populations isolated by habitat conversion [9,22,23]. Conserving the health of soil ecosystems by protecting them from erosion and maintaining a diversity of nutrientcycling microbes can ensure that future generations will enjoy sustained agricultural productivity [24].

Perhaps the single-most important indicator of ecosystem health is biodiversity, and the genetic diversity it manifests is what natural selection can operate on to allow the natural processes of evolution to keep these ecosystems healthy, resilient, and productive [16,20]. Not only can productive fisheries not exist in species-poor oceans, or economically viable wood supplies not be maintained in unsustainably logged landscapes, but species-poor ecosystems are also much more likely to collapse in the face of natural or human-induced environmental change than species-rich ones [16]. Terrestrial and marine species diversity enhances ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling and primary production and increases the resilience of ecosystems to disturbance and therefore the capacity of these ecosystems to provide services to future human generations [13]. Sustainable resource extraction is not only common sense for long-term economic benefits to humans, but it is also a management practice that can give the ecosystems of the world a chance to adapt to and persist [20]. For instance, sustainably logged Malaysian tropical forests can still support reasonable densities of tiger populations [25], and, as long as forest structure and biodiversity are maintained, even old logging roads are traveled regularly by the big cats (Figure 32.1).

To be sustainable, natural resource management should be both ecologically responsible; that is, it should respect the “economy of nature” as defined by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel, and socially ethical, as suggested by the American ecologist Aldo Leopold [26]. Societal decisions regarding both the

(See color insert.) Tiger on abandoned logging road photographed by photo trap, Tembat Forest Reserve, Terengganu, Peninsular Malaysia. (Source

FIGURE 32.1 (See color insert.) Tiger on abandoned logging road photographed by photo trap, Tembat Forest Reserve, Terengganu, Peninsular Malaysia. (Source: Photo by Rimba/Reuben Clements.)

exploitation and the conservation of natural resources should be based on ecological knowledge and research, because ecological sustainability is the key to long-term success [23,27], and on social justice, because extracting and conserving resources involve trade-offs that have ecological and social costs [28-30]. This is especially urgent, given the fact that most of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots” (areas with both high biodiversity and high rates of natural habitat loss) [10] are also areas of relatively high human population density and growth [31].

To assess these trade-offs and make socially fair decisions regarding the extraction and conservation of natural resources, other points of view besides the dominant market-oriented western perspective should be solicited and appraised, including the traditional ecological knowledge of the world’s rural cultures [32]. Giving resource management more legitimacy by involving local human communities in the decision process concerning the extraction and conservation of natural resources is likely to yield management actions that are not only ecologically but socially sustainable as well [28]. For instance, conservation of the Tampolo coastal rain forest in Madagascar has enjoyed support from local communities by mixing traditional covenant ceremonials, agricultural development, ecotourism, native tree species planting, and environmental education. In Thailand, a successful community-based conservation approach has even resulted in the recovery of ungulate populations that were previously subjected to poaching pressure [33]. Community-based conservation approaches may involve negotiating trade-offs and compromises that are complex and thus require more time to achieve than the traditional “top-down” conservation approach. However, the process itself may not only empower local communities to own and manage their resources as caretakers, but may also enhance the educational benefit for all parties involved and allow stakeholders to embrace this necessary commitment to long-term resource conservation for the sake of future human generations.

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