The importance of land-use legacies to ecology and conservation

Publication Type:

Journal Article


BIOSCIENCE, AMER INST BIOLOGICAL SCI, Volume 53, Number 1, 1444 EYE ST, NW, STE 200, WASHINGTON, DC 20005 USA, p.77-88 (2003)


conservation, disturbance, ecosystem process, land use, natural resource management


Recognition of the importance of land-use history and its legacies in most ecological systems has been a major factor driving the recent focus on human activity as a legitimate and essential subject of environmental science. Ecologists, conservationists, and natural resource policymakers now recognize that the legacies of land-use activities continue to influence ecosystem structure and function for decades or centuries-or even longer-after those activities have ceased. Consequently, recognition of these historical legacies adds explanatory power to our understanding of modern conditions at scales from organisms to the globe and reduces missteps in anticipating or managing for future conditions. As a result, environmental history emerges as an integral part of ecological science and conservation planning. By considering diverse ecological phenomena, ranging from biodiversity and biogeochemical cycles to ecosystem resilience to anthropogenic stress, and by examining terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in temperate to tropical biomes, this article demonstrates the ubiquity and importance of land-use legacies to environmental science and management.