Improving knowledge on ecosystem processes

Researching ecosystem impacts
Expanding research on ecosystems ecological processes and development impacts
The "ecosystem" includes both the biological and physical and chemical components (the biotic and abiotic). Ecological processes are the complex mix of interactions between animals, plants and their environment that ensure an ecosystem's full range of biodiversity is adequately maintained. Examples include population and prodator-prey dynamics, nutrient cycling, migration and dispersal.
Knowledge of ecosystem mechanisms, benefits, human impact, and the extent, status and distribution of their biodiversity is still not understood well enough, particularly in tropical environments. So long as this remains so, the true value of an ecosystem to global vitality and humanity can only be estimated. Current knowledge clearly suggests, however, that natural ecosystems are grossly undervalued in favour of their gradual degradation for short-term economic profit. In the event, conservation measures will continue to be undermined.

The many components of biodiversity control the stores and flows of energy, water and nutrients within ecosystems, and provide resistance to major perturbations. A much better knowledge of ecosystem functions and structure, and the roles of the components of biological diversity in ecosystems, is required, especially to understand: (i) ecosystem resilience and the effects of biodiversity loss (species and genetic levels) and habitat fragmentation; (ii) underlying causes of biodiversity loss; and (iii) determinants of local biological diversity in management decisions. Functional biodiversity in ecosystems provides many goods and services of economic and social importance. While there is a need to accelerate efforts to gain new knowledge about functional biodiversity, ecosystem management has to be carried out even in the absence of such knowledge.

The ecosystem concept is dynamic and variable and can be applied at different scales, though for management purposes it is generally used to group broadly similar communities, such as temperate rainforests or coral reefs. A key element in ecosystems is that in the natural state, ecological processes such as energy flows and water cycles are conserved.

Information from all sources is critical to arriving at effective ecosystem management strategies. A much better knowledge of ecosystem functions and the impact of human use is desirable. All relevant information from any concerned area should be shared with all stakeholders and actors, taking into account, inter alia, any decision to be taken under Article 8(j) of the [Convention on Biological Diversity]. Assumptions behind proposed management decisions should be made explicit and checked against available knowledge and views of stakeholders.

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.

The natural resilience of forest ecosystems provides them with a capacity for renewal. Fire, insect-damage, disease, windstorms and age cause all trees to die eventually, but the natural resilience of the forest ensures the renewal, rejuvenation and diversity of species. These qualities give the ecosystem strength, and it has drawn on this resilience to adapt to global disruptions such as extended cycles of climatic change. At the same time, ecosystems are not immune to damage. Forests must be managed so that their natural resilience allows the recovery process to begin immediately after a disruption. This is a key element of sustainable forest management.

Under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, thirty-three research institutes and fifty-two stationary experimental stations have been organized into The Chinese Research Network of Ecosystems, involving more than one thousand scientists in the study of ecosystems. The National Research Network of Forest Ecosystems has twenty stations. In the sector of environmental protection, monitoring stations have been established for the study of the ecologies of grasslands, deserts, wetlands and forests.

1. In all decisions made affecting the environment, the integrity of the ecosystem must be given primacy in conjunction with socially equitable and environmentally-sound development.

2. Ecosystem processes are characterized by varying temporal scales and lag-effects. This inherently conflicts with the tendency of humans to favour short-term gains and immediate benefits over future ones.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal