Ecosystem management (EM) has been a major theme in my lab for over a decade, ever since I helped develop the prototype Partners in Flight, a large-scale bird conservation plan for the lower Mississippi Valley.  I am a firm believer in EM as a unifying concept for natural resources conservation and management in both human-dominated as well as relatively pristine landscapes.  But what is it, and how does it differ from traditional natural resources management? 


Rather than a primary focus on goods and services that an ecosystem supplies, the focus is on maintaining that system’s integrity; products can be extracted provided the extraction doesn’t compromise the primary goals, rather than the other way around. Rather than a focus on single species, such as a game or endangered species, there is a focus on maintaining biological diversity at all levels.  The idea is that, if the integrity of the system is maintained, so will its species.  This may seem like a new concept, but it really is just a logical progression from the earliest wildlife conservation and management concepts first espoused by Aldo Leopold.

Virtually all of my students have research projects that somehow fit into the EM theme.  Many are working with species that are possible indicators of ecosystem integrity, or are sentinel species for assessing environmental effects.  Many have investigated alternative ways to manage forests, agroecosystems, or wetlands, with some alternatives consistent with the goals of EM, others less so.  Often, the birds we investigate in response to management could be called indicator or sentinel species.  Other times, we take a broader, community approach.  A major component of EM is adaptive management, which can be highly quantitative, and also is a theme in my lab.  Even the more basic research I do fits into the EM theme: for example, investigating the role of insectivorous birds in forests and agricultural fields.  Each of the other major themes in the lab can be placed under the EM umbrella.

Ecosystem Management