Naturalness in biological conservation

Conservation scientists are arguing whether naturalness provides a reasonable imperative for conservation. To clarify this debate and the interpretation of the term natural, I analyze three management strategies – ecosystem preservation, ecosystem restoration, and ecosystem engineering – with respect to the naturalness of their outcomes. This analysis consists in two parts. First, the ambiguous term natural is defined in a variety of ways, including (1) naturalness as that which is part of nature, (2) naturalness as a contrast to artifactuality, (3) naturalness as an historical independence from human actions, and (4) naturalness as possession of certain properties. After that, I analyze the different conceptions with respect to their implications for the three management strategies. The main conclusion is that there exists no single conception of naturalness that could distinguish between the outcomes of the three management methods. Therefore, as long as the outcomes of the different methods are regarded as being of a different value in conservation, we should either abandon the idea of naturalness as the guiding concept in conservation or use the term natural only in the ways that take both its historical and feature dependent meanings into consideration.
Keywords conservation  ecosystem engineering  naturalness  preservation  restoration  unnaturalness
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