Framing threats to ecosystems

If a tree falls over in a forest but no-one sees it happen, does it matter? If an insect species (in that same hypothetical forest) goes extinct but science had never described it, will anyone notice it’s gone? If climate change means the dominant tree species in that forest is likely to be unable to cope in twenty years time, should we give up on the forest because the local managers can’t do anything about climate change? The answer to all these questions (like so many questions in conservation science) is ‘it depends’.

No, this is not Metaphysics 101, this is Decision Point, and this issue contains a wealth of science on ecosystems, how we frame them and make decisions about the many threats they face.

Up front we discuss the IUCN Red List of Threatened Ecosystems, a new risk framework that has been in development now over many years (and one that EDG has made significant contributions to). The fact is that unless we describe something and assess its risk in some formal, widely-accepted framework, then it’s likely its decline will be overlooked (say goodbye undescribed ‘insect’). The Red List of Species has helped in prioritising actions relating to species (the ‘trees’) but until now we haven’t had a workable framework for ecosystems (the ‘forest’).

Then Rocio Ponce-Reyes analyses the extinction risk of individual species in our disappearing cloud forest ecosystems; Nathalie Butt examines what climate change means for eucalypts, our dominant tree species across much of Australia; and Annabel Smith looks at how fire management will hit reptiles in our mallee ecosystems.

Next we dive underwater with Megan Saunders who discusses local and global threats to seagrass ecosystems in Moreton Bay. Managers might not be able to do anything about climate change but they can do something about water quality. Will responses to local threats compensate for impacts from global threats? Chris Brown (with Megan) then point out it’s the interactions between local and global threats that should determine what we should prioritise.

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