Nature conservation and ecological restoration in a changing climate: what are we aiming for? Academic Article uri icon


  • Principles underpinning the goals of nature conservation and ecological restoration have traditionally involved preventing ecological change or restoring ecosystems or populations towards preferred historical states. Under global climate change, it is increasingly recognised that this may no longer be achievable, but there has been limited debate regarding new principles that can help guide goal-setting for nature conservation and ecological restoration in dynamic environments. To stimulate such debate, we established a framework of human motivations implicit in historically focussed nature conservation approaches. We drew on this and a literature survey to propose a palette of five principles to guide goal-setting for nature conservation and ecological restoration in a changing climate. Our framework proposes three broad sets of human motivations relevant to nature conservation: (1) basic survival and material needs (akin to provisioning and regulating ecosystem services), (2) psychological and cultural needs such as a sense of place (reflecting cultural ecosystem services), and (3) the need to fulfil moral or ethical obligations (e.g. intergenerational and interspecies equity). Meeting basic needs for current and future generations is supported by a commonly proposed principle to optimise ecological processes and functions (Principle 1); which in turn is dependent on maintaining the ongoing evolutionary potential in the world’s biota (Principle 2). Beyond this, motivations relating to psychological, cultural and moral needs demand not only an emphasis on healthy ecosystem functioning, but on the character and diversity of the ecosystems and species that contribute to these functions. Our subsequent three principles, minimise native species losses (Principle 3), maintain the evolutionary character and biogeographic structuring of the biota (Principle 4), and maintain wild natural ecosystems (Principle 5) contribute to these further goals. Although these principles can sometimes be conflicting, we argue that by connecting directly with underlying motivations, this broader palette will help take us forward towards more effective nature conservation in a rapidly changing world.

publication date

  • 2017

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