Management of Urban Ecosystems and the Application of the Novel Ecosystem Evaluation Framework in the City of Kitchener
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Increasing urbanization and the impacts associated with human settlements are major factors in the degradation of ecological integrity and main contributors to the emergence of novel ecosystems. As landscapes across Southern Ontario change from near natural to human dominated systems, ecological changes are inevitable and changes to natural area and ecosystem integrity will occur. Understanding how to adapt to, and manage, ecosystem changes and new or novel ecosystems is a challenge for resource managers from local to global scales. The utility of the novel ecosystem framework as a tool for natural area and ecosystem management was investigated and applied in a case study to management challenges occurring within publically owned natural areas in the city of Kitchener. Using multiple evaluation techniques commonly available to municipal and resource agency managers, and applied in the form of a rapid assessment, this study considered how impacts associated with human recreation activities, housing encroachments, invasive species and informal trail networks contribute to the development of hybrid and novel ecosystems and to the selection of alternative management approaches. A series of individual natural area case examples further highlight the applicability of the framework. Results of the rapid assessment for human impacts, ecological indicators and comparative changes in species richness of several parks are analyzed in the context of their contribution to current state of ecological integrity and in their manifestation as barriers to management and restoration. Various scenarios, goals, targets and objectives for managing sites on hybrid and novel trajectories are discussed. The results of this study show that the synergistic effect and multiplicity of issues occurring within and external to natural areas often coalesce to act as barriers for management and restoration that is directed solely towards historic ecosystem conditions. By adopting a hybrid or novel ecosystem approach, managers have practical, forward-thinking and goal oriented options for managing urban ecosystems, especially when faced with limited resources and when working in ecosystems and natural areas that are disturbed and in various states of degradation.