Monday, September 10, 2012

ECER 2012: Day 1

European Conference on Ecological Restoration 2012, Budejovice, Czech Republic
The first day of ECER 2012 was filled with only plenary talks. Richard Hobbs who co-authored the Davies et al 2011 paper “Don´t judge species based on their origin” defended their paper that received a lot of criticism among people who did not like the approach of accepting novel ecosystems with invasive species as the new normal. My general reflection of this paper is that I don´t understand what is so controversial about it. The paper basically states that invasive species should not be eradicated, unless they are a problem, in which case they should be eradicated. Professor Hobbs warned about what he saw as a trend that the sound-bite society with polarized camps on most debates, with few taking a middle ground is moving from the mainstream media to the scientific debate. He stated that he does not mean that we should give up on invasive species, but if we are struggling with getting rid of the species and e.g. repeatedly use pesticides, we should ask ourselves “What are we doing?”. One person in the audience commented that his ideas are not controversial among managers who are the ones who have to do the work. Professor Hobbs agreed, and said that the problems are the academics.

Professor James Aronson spoke about Natural capital and Ecosystem services.
Natural capital is the stock e.g. natural and near natural ecosystems and their biodiversity. The ecosystem services represent the dividend (flux) that flow from Natural capital. Although I generally like the concept of Ecosystem services, and agree with that we need to put a price tag on nature to be able to explain what the loss of an ecosystem service would cost, I see a big problem with this. No matter how high the value of an ecosystem service is (climate regulation from wetlands by carbon storage), this value is still fictional as long as someone can destroy the asset without having to pay for it. If I break your computer, I will have to pay for it. If I start a coal-power plant, I will not have to pay for changing the climate or the contribution to premature deaths nearby the power-plant, no matter how valuable clean air is. That is, polluters don´t pay.

Rudy van Diggelen finished the day with a fiery talk, where he asked where SER Europe is now that big changes are occurring in EU Nature legislation. He mentioned the EU 2020 biodiversity targets that include a statement that 15% of the degraded areas should be restored. This is a remarkable statement, if one thinks like I do, that most of Europe is a degraded ecosystem he continued. He was also worried about the focus on the hyped term resilience that is gaining foothold in EU nature legislation. This concept, although not new, has gotten a lot of attention recently, and there is for example a research institute in Stockholm that focuses on resilience science. The host, Karel Prach strongly urged people to not use the term resilience, and Professor Hobbs has stated that resilience risks leading to conceptual mudding without providing an operational utility. Rudy named an example were EU environmental subsidies had gone to transform a potato-field into a golf-course, and the argument given has been that “Well, a golf-course is a much more resilient ecosystem than a potato-field. We need, to have answers to this, otherwise we will just be standing on the sideline only being able to later say “I told you so”. I personally do not see the term resilience as a threat, and I think Elmqvist et al´s (2003) paper shows clearly how the concept of resilience is useful.

The day finished with a welcoming dinner, and a mandatory Budweiser Budvar.

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