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The Ecosystem Approach Advanced User Guide


1. Introduction

Explanation
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.

Guidelines for answering this question
Adaptive management processes should include the development of long-term visions, plans and goals that address inter-generational equity, while taking into account immediate and critical needs (e.g., hunger, poverty, shelter). 

Adaptive management should take into account trade-offs between short-term benefits and long-term goals in decision-making processes.  Adaptive management should take into account the lag between management actions and their outcomes.  

Monitoring systems should be designed to accommodate the time scale for change in the ecosystem variables selected for monitoring. Alternatively, if the monitoring cannot be adjusted, a more appropriately scaled but still relevant variable should be selected to monitor. 

The capacity to monitor and detect long-term, low frequency changes in ecosystem structure and functioning should be strengthened.  To implement long-term management requires stability of institutions, legal and policy frameworks, monitoring programs, and extension and awareness-raising programs.

Tools
Monitoring methods
Modeling
Information exchange


Further explanation
Time needs to be considered explicitly in formulating management plans, and in longer-scale processes need to especially considered and planned for because these are otherwise often neglected. In this regard it should be noted that:
People find long-term trends more difficult to detect than short term trends, particularly in complex systems.
Management systems tend to operate at relatively short time scales, often much shorter than the timescales for change in ecosystem processes.
Where there is a lag between management actions and their outcomes, it is difficult to take reasoned management decisions.
Long-term ecological processes, which can be very important, are therefore likely to be poorly accommodated in management systems, unless these are explicitly and carefully designed to address long-term issues.
Awareness of long-term processes is important because it is the long-term, spatially, extensive processes that both characterize and determine the broad ecosystem properties.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme