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Posted 9/17/2018

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ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA.   The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Institute for Water Resources just released a new report, Advances in Conservation Ecology: Paradigm Shifts of Consequence for USACE Environmental Planning, Management and Conservation Cooperation.  This report presents a digest of information on recent advances in ecological science and management for USACE ecologists and eco-managers.

Advances in conservation ecology are changing the way federal agencies in the United States plan, manage and cooperate to achieve their missions. These advances have contributed to major changes in the widely accepted working concepts—or paradigms—that underlie widely held assumptions of ecological management. Many of these paradigm shifts occurred since USACE environmental policy and technical guidance was written and are unevenly understood among ecological managers (eco-managers).

The concept of ecosystem management emerged in the 1990s as an attractive alternative to species-based management, but, in its earlier incarnations in the 1990s, ecosystem management tended to rely on assumptions of long-term ecological stability and integrity that are now largely dismissed as unrealistic by ecologists and leading eco-managers in large part because of increasing awareness of past and potential climate-change effects. 

Other ecological paradigms were already shifting, but have shifted more quickly since global climate change has been widely accepted as real. While many eco-managers in the 1990s continued to accept a tightly organized, deterministically resilient concept of community integrity, most now believe that many species redistribute individualistically and often uncertainly in continuously changing community assemblages.  Leading restoration scientists and eco-managers now argue that most, if not all, ecosystems are humanly-altered and quite resistant to holistic protection and restoration of past ecosystem conditions. Yet leading ecological scientists and eco-managers continue to believe that many of the threatened species elements of ecosystems can be protected at and restored to more naturally sustainable abundances somewhere on the continent, if not in previous, “more natural” ecosystem assemblages and locations 

The old paradigms allowed a locally independent and deterministic certainty in management that has been replaced with wide acceptance of the need for forward looking, objective-guided and cooperative adaptive management. Most tenets of contemporary ecosystem management concepts are generally accepted; particularly, the importance of sustaining biodiversity, defining management objectives in terms of ecosystem services, and considering species population needs and management at a wide range of ecological scales. But ecosystem management is accepted mainly in support of population-based management. USACE practitioners can do much to accommodate these changes, including possible revisions of policy and new technical guidance. 

Learn More

For more information, visit

  • IWR website

  • Download the report here.

  • Hobbs, R.J., E. S. Higgs, and C. M. Hall, eds.  2013.  Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order.  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).  2014.  Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, eds. C. B. Field, V. R. Barros, D. J. Dokken, K. J. Mach, M. D. Mastrandrea, T. E. Belir, et al.  New York, NY: Cambridge University Press