‘New conservation’ or surrender to development?

B. Miller, M. E. Soulé, J. Terborgh
February, 2014

Ecologists have concluded that diversity per se in ecosystems is important to ecosystem function and ecological services. Meta-analyses of several hundred investigations showed that a loss of diversity negatively affected ecosystem function (Balvanera et al., 2006; Cardinale et al., 2006, 2011; Tilman, 2012). Specifically, research showed that loss of species diversity decreased productivity, resilience, nutrient cycling, drought tolerance, options for water management, resistance to pests and efficiency of ecosystems while increasing chances of catastrophic disease (Keesing et al., 2010; Tilman, 2012; Washington, 2013). Yet, the planet’s biodiversity is affected by explosions in human population, advancing technology and increasing per capita consumption (Wilson, 2002).

Lately, some propose that the future of conservation lies in managing nature for human benefit (Kareiva & Marvier, 2007; Kareiva et al., 2007; Nordhaus & Shellenberger, 2007; Marris, 2011; Kareiva, Lalasz & Marvier, 2012a; Duncan, 2013). Directing conservation action for human benefit is nothing new. It recycles the ideas of Gifford Pinchot, maximum sustainable yield and the Brundtland Commission. Here, we critique some recent assumptions in the various forms of this ideology (hereafter, ideology), many of which use human exceptionalism as a justification: (1) nature is a warehouse for human use; (2) humans can construct new ecosystems from non-native species; (3) humans do not have to live within limits; (4) nature is resilient; (5) nature is a social construct; (6) conservationists preach too much doom and gloom; (7) people can manage nature inten- sively while preserving biodiversity.