Ecological principles and guidelines for managing the use of land

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Ecological Applications



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The many ways that people have used and managed land throughout history has emerged as a primary cause of land‐cover change around the world. Thus, land use and land management increasingly represent a fundamental source of change in the global environment. Despite their global importance, however, many decisions about the management and use of land are made with scant attention to ecological impacts. Thus, ecologists' knowledge of the functioning of Earth's ecosystems is needed to broaden the scientific basis of decisions on land use and management. In response to this need, the Ecological Society of America established a committee to examine the ways that land‐use decisions are made and the ways that ecologists could help inform those decisions. This paper reports the scientific findings of that committee.

Five principles of ecological science have particular implications for land use and can assure that fundamental processes of Earth's ecosystems are sustained. These ecological principles deal with time, species, place, disturbance, and the landscape. The recognition that ecological processes occur within a temporal setting and change over time is fundamental to analyzing the effects of land use. In addition, individual species and networks of interacting species have strong and far‐reaching effects on ecological processes. Furthermore, each site or region has a unique set of organisms and abiotic conditions influencing and constraining ecological processes. Disturbances are important and ubiquitous ecological events whose effects may strongly influence population, community, and ecosystem dynamics. Finally, the size, shape, and spatial relationships of habitat patches on the landscape affect the structure and function of ecosystems. The responses of the land to changes in use and management by people depend on expressions of these fundamental principles in nature.

These principles dictate several guidelines for land use. The guidelines give practical rules of thumb for incorporating ecological principles into land‐use decision making. These guidelines suggest that land managers should: (1) examine impacts of local decisions in a regional context, (2) plan for long‐term change and unexpected events, (3) preserve rare landscape elements and associated species, (4) avoid land uses that deplete natural resources, (5) retain large contiguous or connected areas that contain critical habitats, (6) minimize the introduction and spread of nonnative species, (7) avoid or compensate for the effects of development on ecological processes, and (8) implement land‐use and management practices that are compatible with the natural potential of the area.

Decision makers and citizens are encouraged to consider these guidelines and to include ecological perspectives in choices on how land is used and managed. The guidelines suggest actions required to develop the science needed by land managers.

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