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Dernière mise à jour : Mai 2018

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How policy makers and ecologists can develop a more constructive dialogue to save the planet

How policy makers and ecologists can develop a more constructive dialogue to save the planet
An international consensus asks for human environmental impacts be 'maintained', conserved' and 'safeguarded' within “safe ecological limits”. A new study that assembled an international team of environmental scientists shows that policy makers have little idea what these terms mean or how to connect them to a wealth of ecological data and ideas. Progress on protecting our planet requires us to dispel this confusion, and the researchers have produced a framework to do just that.

 “Human actions challenge nature in many ways. We lump these into a grab-bag of ideas we call ecological stability. We want nature to be stable in some sense of that word. But what do we know about stability from our theories and experiments? And how can that knowledge help policy makers? We offer some solutions to these important questions.” said Jose M. Montoya, co-leader of this study at the Theoretical and Experimental Ecology Station, one of the unit of the LabEx TULIP.

The paper just published in Ecology Letters outlines exactly what policy makers, ecological experimenters and theoreticians all think about this term : “stability”. The answer is very different things — and there’s a real problem with this lack of agreement. One of the solutions that the autors proposes is to recognise that nature responds to human pressures in complex ways, even as policy makers often demand simple solutions. Acknowledging the need for better communication on the science-policy interface thus seems essential.

Unfortunately, most of the policies examined by Jose M. Montoya and his colleagues contain terms that are ambiguous, or have multiple definitions that mean different things to different people. The recently announced United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are no exception. This ambiguity is a huge problem as it means that we cannot measure progress, or indeed a lack of progress, towards achieving policy goals. Ecologists, policymakers and practitioners urgently need to develop a shared language in order to be more effective in managing the world’s ecosystems – our life-support system.

See also

Media Contact

José M Montoya, at, +33 (0)5 61 04 03 83 for comment in English, Spanish or French

Article citation

“Navigating the complexity of ecological stability” by Ian Donohue, Helmut Hillebrand, José M. Montoya, Owen L. Petchey, Stuart L. Pimm, Mike S. Fowler, Kevin Healy, Andrew L. Jackson, Miguel Lurgi, Deirdre McClean, Nessa E. O’Connor, Eoin J. O’Gorman and Qiang Yang Ecology Letters (2016) online at