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The Ecosystem Approach Advanced User Guide


1. Introduction

Explanation
Ecosystem functioning and resilience depends on a dynamic relationship within species, among species and between species and their abiotic environment, as well as the physical and chemical interactions within the environment. The conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of these interactions and processes is of greater significance for the long-term maintenance of biological diversity than simply protection of species.

Guidelines for answering this question
There needs to be an improved understanding of the interrelationship between ecosystem composition, structure and function with respect to (i) human interaction, needs and values (including cultural aspects), (ii) conservation management of biodiversity, and (iii) environmental quality, integrity and vitality.

Determine and define conservation, social and economic objectives and goals that can be used to guide policy, management and planning using participatory processes.  

Assess the extent to which ecosystem composition, structure and function contribute to the delivery of goods and services to meet the desired balance of conservation, social and economic outcomes.  

Expand knowledge of the responses of ecosystems, in terms of changes in composition, structure and function, to both internally and externally induced stresses caused by, inter alia, human use, disturbance, pollution, fire, alien species, disease abnormal climatic variations (drought, flood) etc.  

Develop and promote management strategies and practices that enable and ensure conservation of ecosystem services and take account of, or minimize, risks/threats to ecosystem function and structure.  

Apply instruments to maintain and/or restore ecosystem services.  

Where required, develop management strategies and practices to facilitate recovery of ecosystem structure and function (including threatened components) to generate or enhance ecosystem services and biodiversity benefits.  

Develop and apply instruments that contribute to achievement of conservation management goals through a combination of managing protected area networks, ecological networks and areas outside of such networks to meet both short-term and long-term requirements and conservation outcome.  

Monitoring of population sizes of vulnerable and important species should be linked to a management plan that identifies appropriate response measures and actions.

Tools
Interdisciplinary research
Monitoring methods Legislation and policy
Management and restoration plans
Protected areas

Further explanation
Biodiversity conservation and the maintenance of human wellbeing depend on the functioning and resilience of natural ecosystems.  In this regard it should be noted that:
Ecosystem services – the benefits people obtain from ecosystems by way of resources, environmental regulation including, support of biospheric processes, inputs to culture, and the intrinsic values of the systems themselves – depend on maintaining and, where appropriate, restoring particular ecological structures and functions.
Ecosystem functioning and resilience depend on inter-relationships within and among species, between species and their abiotic environments, and on the physical and chemical interactions within these environments.
Given this complexity, management must focus on maintaining, and where appropriate restoring, the key structures and ecological processes (e.g., hydrological systems, pollination systems, habitats and food webs) rather than just individual species.
Given that the loss of genetic diversity predisposes populations and species to local extinction, the conservation of ecosystem composition and structure requires monitoring of population sizes of vulnerable and economically important species. Management of ecosystem processes has to be carried out despite incomplete knowledge of ecosystem functioning.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme