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What the novel ecosystem concept provides: a reply to Kattan et al.

Thursday, July 20, 2017   (2 Comments)
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Jim Miller
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Brandon Bestelmeyer
USDA-ARS Rangeland Management Research Unit
Jornada Experimental Range
New Mexico State University

[7/31/17 note from SER editor:  the link in the first graph has been corrected to link to the 2016  Kattan/Aronson/Murcia article and the first citation has been corrected to include the book title and editors.]

The novel ecosystem concept has become immensely popular over the last decade, but it has also raised the ire of a number of prominent figures in restoration ecology. Among the latter, Gustavo Kattan, James Aronson, and Caroline Murcia take issue with several points raised by Jim Miller and Brandon Bestelmeyer in a paper recently published in Restoration Ecology.

“The novel ecosystem concept is not without its flaws” admit Miller and Bestelmeyer, “but it is clearly a step in the right direction as far as providing guidance in instances where traditional views of restoration do not.”

A novel ecosystem, as defined by Richard Hobbs and his colleagues, is “a system of abiotic, biotic, and social components (and their interactions) that, by virtue of human influence, differs from those that prevailed historically, having a tendency to self-organize and manifest novel qualities without intensive human management.”

Miller and Bestelmeyer respond to three key points raised by Kattan and his colleagues: the usefulness of the novel ecosystem definition, whether the novel ecosystem concept is really new, and whether the novel ecosystem framework offers a path forward.

“The definition of novel ecosystems is, like the definitions of many concepts in restoration ecology, succinct and universal” Miller and Bestelmeyer note. “No such definition can provide the detail needed to inform the particulars of restoration in a given location, but this does not diminish the value of the concept.”

“We did not suggest that the novel ecosystem concept was born fully formed in a vacuum” they continue. “Rather, we pointed out that several of the key tenets of this framework have long been codified by the Society of Ecological Restoration. A major contribution of the novel ecosystem concept is creating a framework and identity for those who struggle with the narrow focus on restoration to historical conditions advocated by Kattan and his colleagues.”

Miller and Bestlemeyer conclude that “the novel ecosystem concept offers a path forward by focusing our attention on what is possible when a recovery to an historical pre-disturbance condition is not.”


Defining Novel Ecosystems. / Hobbs, Richard; Higgs, E.S.; Hall, C.M. Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order. ed. / R.J. Hobbs; E.S. Higgs; C.M. Hall. 1. ed. United Kingdom : John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd, 2013. p. 58 - 60.

Hobbs, R.J., E.S. Higgs, and C.M. Hall (eds). 2013  Novel ecosystems: intervening in the new ecological world order. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Kattan GH, Aronson J, Murcia C (2016) Does the novel ecosystem concept provide a framework for practical applications and a path forward? Restoration Ecology 24:714-716

Miller JR, Bestelmeyer BT (2016) What’s wrong with novel ecosystems, really? Restoration Ecology 24:577-582

About Restoration Ecology
Restoration Ecology is the Society’s bi-monthly scientific and technical peer-reviewed journal published Edited by a distinguished international panel, the journal addresses global concerns and communicates them to researchers and practitioners throughout the world

About SER
The Society for Ecological Restoration is an international non-profit organization dedicated to promoting ecological restoration as a means of sustaining the diversity of life on Earth and re-establishing an ecologically healthy relationship between nature and culture.

Media Contact:
Marguerite Nutter
Membership and Communications Manager
Society for Ecological Restoration
202.299.9518 /


Marguerite Nutter says...
Posted Monday, July 31, 2017
While the link to the Kattan, et al article does appear in the references section of this piece, the link in the opening paragraph mistakenly linked back to the Miller/Bestelmeyer article and not Kattan. That link has been corrected, with my apologies for the error.
EcoHealth Network says...
Posted Friday, July 28, 2017
As one of the authors of the Kattan et al article, I urge readers of this imperfect and misleading news feed to read our article in Restoration Ecology as well as Miller & Bestlemeyer's response to it. There should have been a hyperlink to our piece in the piece here. See also Murcia et al. 2014. A critique of the ´novel ecosystem´ concept. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 29:548-553. Why do I say this newsfeed is imperfect, not to say "false news" ? Kattan et al and other critics of the novel ecosystems literature do not by any means take a "narrow approach" to ecological restoration as stated by M & B. Furthermore, nothing at all has been "codified" by SER as suggested by M & B.