Current state of the book
This wikibook project is in its first stage, which is to decide the chapters to be included and summarise what they should contain. At the present time, editorial effort is directed towards the writing of introductions to each chapter. This is also a process of selecting the main subsections for each chapter. These will eventually appear as ‘pages’ indented in the table of contents.
Contributors are reminded that it is a textbook to provide an up to date review of important areas of applied ecological knowledge for advanced level university students and site managers.
Applied ecology is a framework for the application of knowledge about ecosystems so that actions can be taken to create a better balance and harmony between people and nature in order to reduce human impact on other beings and their habitats.
In situ and ex situ conservation systems
With respect to scope, it is intended that the book should contain a body of knowledge about the use of ecological theory and principles to solve problems associated with the intensive human use of the environment. It is beyond our capacity to return Earth to a primeval state, but what we can do is build a technological ‘ark’ to retain as much ecological integrity as possible. To achieve this, many aspects of ecology have to be applied to manage conservation systems where the maintenance, restoration, and creation of diverse and healthy ecosystems are principal objectives.
Some conservation systems may be broadly classified as in situ operations. These include:
- protection of rare species and habitats;
- restoration of industrial wasteland and the mitigative creation of new ecosystems;
- using wetland ecosystems for treating wastewater;
- environmental valuation in relation to the needs for conservation and development to go hand in hand;
- integration of sustainable ecosystems with commercial enterprises, such as agriculture and nature tourism;
- study of the ecology of human diseases in relation to their control.
Other kinds of conservation systems are classified as ex situ. These include operations in zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and germ plasm stores. The objectives are to provide breeding populations of plants and animals for reintroductions, and maintain a classified biodiversity inventory of specimens and genetic resources.
These conservation systems all overlap with each other, but they broadly define topics that most people would recognise as covering distinct applications of management practices to ecosystems, where the outcomes benefit humankind. Each one could be developed as a chapter of this book, but it is important to think hard before initiating a new chapter, because its principles may fall into an existing one. The unifying principle that brings the topics together is that they all centre on the management of species and habitats. A common objective is long-term sustainability, and it is in this sense that the planning and operation of conservation management systems is the practical point of focus.
The endangered resources
In 1974 Norman Myers estimated the annual loss of tropical ecosystems to be about 240,000 km2. This was the outcome of commercial timber extraction, farming operations and fuel gathering; a combination of economic objectives and the subsistence behaviour of native peoples. Biodiversity represents the very foundation of human existence. Besides its profound ethical and aesthetic implications, a loss of biodiversity has serious economic and social costs. As an essential resource, future changes should be tracked through the collection and dissemination of scientific knowledge on a global scale. It was in this spirit that UNEP commissioned the Global Biodiversity Assessment (GBA) project, which reported in 1995 as a first step to assemble an inventory of Earth’s endangered biological resources.
New societies and cultures
The application of ecological principles and knowledge to environmental issues of world development is changing the way societies value natural resources. This new understanding is having a cultural impact through changes in the behaviour of governments, communities and families. This is mainly the result of a combination of publicity and legislation. For example, in 1977 the Countryside Commission for England and Wales organised a national campaign to persuade farmers to enhance the wildlife and scenic value of agricultural land. Although this particular campaign did not halt the destructive ecological outcomes of intensive agriculture, it marked the beginning of a process of change in agrarian culture. This is now obvious throughout Britain, largely because of a shift in the system of farm subsidies away from production towards the creation of environmental goods.
Education is another important factor in creating a culture of sustainable development. This requires the promotion of a knowledge system linking culture and ecology. The aim is to present economic development alongside the work of organisations in society that are promoting the conservation of natural resources.