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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Managing Low-Output Agroecosystems Sustainably: the Importance of Ecological Thresholds

Authors
item Brown, Joel - USDA-NRCS
item Herrick, Jeffrey
item Price, David - US DOD CORPS OF ENGINEERS

Submitted to: Canadian Journal of Forest Research
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 3, 1999
Publication Date: August 12, 1999
Citation: Brown, J.R., Herrick, J.E., Price, D. 1999. Managing low-output agroecosystems sustainably: the importance of ecological thresholds. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 29:1112-1119.

Interpretive Summary: Managing vegetation to achieve ecological, economic, and social goals is difficult. Inherent complexity among ecosystem components and unpredictable climate often limit opportunities for converting cultural inputs to harvestable products. We propose that research and implementation for sustainable land management should shift direction toward identifying ecological thresholds and should focus on developing low-input responses t avoid, rather than restore, land degradation. This approach will yield more benefits at lower costs to society.

Technical Abstract: Managing vegetation to achieve ecological, economic and social goals is difficult. Inherent complexity among ecosystem components and unpredictable climate often limit opportunities for converting cultural inputs to harvestable products. In addition, the long lag time between treatment and financial return makes capital investment in vegetation management economically risky. One tool that can assist land managers in dealing with these constraints is the identification of ecological thresholds and elucidation of processes that signal undesirable change long before it is entrained. This approach places a premium on detecting degrading processes and implementing management responses in the initial stages of land degradation and on limiting inputs to managerial expertise and manipulation of naturally occurring processes. We propose that research and implementation for sustainable land management should shift direction toward identifying ecological thresholds and should focus on developing low-input responses to avoid, rather than restore, land degradation.

Last Modified: 9/10/2014