Ecological interdependence and the Great Forest National Park

As part of a series of short essays on environmental governance, we applied the conceptual framework of ecological interdependence to test the proposed model for the Great Forest National Park.

Some background – underlying impediments to conservation efforts

A key impediment to the adoption of conservation practices by individuals, corporations and even governments, is the psychological barrier presented by the imbalance between costs and benefits over generations (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 2013).  The costs are now due up front in what has been called “the critical decade”, with the benefits flowing later to future generations (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 2013, Steffen and Hughes, 2013).  This impediment is not helped by the fact that there is rarely a consensus on what caused the environmental problem in the first place, and so debates arise over how the budget for environmental management is best spent (Adger and Jordan, 2009).  The ensuing environmental decision-making (EDM) is often driven by the differing values and interests of multiple stakeholders (Harding et al., 2009, Thompson et al., 2011, Michaelidou et al., 2002).   The value positions of stakeholders can be considered to fall along a spectrum that ranges from strongly anthropocentric to strongly ecocentric, depending on whether emphasis is placed on meeting the needs of humans or the environment, respectively (Harding et al., 2009).  This approach ignores the fact that humans are components of ecosystems, and doesn’t allow for integration of both the social and ecological mechanisms that affect biodiversity (Thompson et al., 2011).

The theoretical approach of ecological interdependence

The concept of ecological interdependence attempts to remedy this polar approach, and considers that the extreme ends of this spectrum are unhelpful lenses through which to view EDM.  Michaelidou et al. (2002) describes ecological interdependence in terms of a theoretical framework for sustaining ecosystems and communities, stating “ecosystem conservation and community survival are two interdependent objectives, and should be given equal focus if both are to benefit”. This inextricable link was described by Thompson et al. (2011) as solidarity, or “the reciprocal interdependence of living organisms amongst each other and with spatial and temporal variation in their physical environment”. This definition tempers the current importance placed on economic growth and development, particularly in EDM by those with the power to make major societal decisions ((Harding et al., 2009).

The concept of ecological interdependence can be expanded to consider the different roles that countries play in the global ecosystem, and how they must are often dependent on each other to ensure global ecosystem viability, especially regarding atmospheric issues such as the hole in the ozone layer, and anthropogenic climate change (Litfin, 1999, Davis et al., 2009, Thompson et al., 2011).   This reflects a common theme across the literature on ecological interdependence, which often focusses on the assumption that community efforts are a key element of any conservation policy, whether that community be considered at a local, regional or global scale (Thompson et al., 2011, Litfin, 1999).  Getting communities or individuals to engage in conservation of natural resources, on which we all depend, appears to be a challenge faced by environmental decision-makers at all scales ((Newmark and Hough, 2000, Rist and Moen, 2013).

Case study: the proposed Great Forest National Park

The concept of ‘ecological interdependence’ can be tested on the extinction crisis currently unfolding in the Central Highlands of Victoria.  There is twenty-five years of research on the Central Highlands montane ash forests, detailing the species-level and ecosystem-level interactions that support the most carbon-dense forests in the world (Likens and Lindenmayer, 2012).  These forests act as productive water catchments for greater Melbourne and critical habitat for the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelidus leadbeateri), Victoria’s faunal emblem which was thought to be extinct prior to its rediscovery in 1961 (Lindenmayer, 2009).  The forest is currently threatened by clearfell logging practices, directly causing habitat removal but also indirectly increasing the fire interval of the ecosystem (Lindenmayer, 2009).   A new Great Forest National Park has been proposed by environmental advocacy groups to secure the future of the Leadbeater’s Possum and protect the ecological services that the montane ash forests provide. Naturally, tensions arise where the logging industry is asked to remove itself from the ecosystem.

If a lens of ecological interdependence is applied to the inherent problem of sustaining the ecosystem viability and community survival in the Central Highlands, a balanced approach materialises. Clearfell logging cannot be considered to be compatible with ecosystem viability, so an alternate means of ensuring community viability is needed.  Ecotourism generated by the gazettal of a new national park is an alternate income source for local communities, and provides opportunities for stewardship by the local community and traditional owners. The forest would provide an economic return on this stewardship by improving the yield of the water catchment for great Melbourne.  Furthermore, the economic value of this natural capital as a water catchment is known to be greater than the economic return of the forestry products harvested from it (Lindenmayer, 2009).  The proposed solution of the Great Forest National Park fits Michaelidou’s (2002) theoretical framework of ecological interdependence, as community survival (through ecotourism) would be unsuccessful if the protection of the ecosystem (the ecotourism drawcard) were ignored.


The successful design, monitoring and evaluation of conservation projects requires placing equal emphasis on ecosystem viability and community survival, given that their individual prognoses are inextricably linked (Michaelidou et al., 2002, Harding et al., 2009).  In this critical decade, the literature on ecological interdependence suggests we must somehow balance ecological and social interdependence, a concept which, if taken seriously in all sectors effective immediately, would have far-reaching consequences in all aspects of life in every corner of the globe (Litfin, 1999).  However, the case study of the Central Highlands and the proposed Great Forest National Park shows that the application of the theoretical framework of ecological interdependence can be thoughtfully applied to create a balanced outcome for the environment and the community, and it is this perceived win-win that ensures that the solution will withstand scrutiny from both anthropocentric and ecocentric viewpoints, as well as ensure its longevity as a solution that provides long-term confidence for both the environment and the community.


ADGER, W. N. & JORDAN, A. 2009. Governing sustainability / edited by W. Neil Adger and Andrew Jordan, Cambridge, UK ; NewYork : Cambridge University Press, c2009.

DAVIS, J. L., GREEN, J. D. & REED, A. 2009. Interdependence with the environment: Commitment, interconnectedness, and environmental behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29, 173-180.

EHRLICH, P. R. & EHRLICH, A. H. 2013. Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided? Proc Biol Sci, 280, 20122845.

HARDING, R., HENDRIKS, C. M. & FARUQI, M. 2009. Environmental decision-making : exploring complexity and context / Ronnie Harding, Carolyn M. Hendriks, Mehreen Faruqi, Annandale, N.S.W. : Federation Press, 2009.

LIKENS, G. & LINDENMAYER, D. 2012. Integrating approaches leads to more effective conservation of biodiversity. Biodiversity and Conservation, 21, 3323-3341.

LINDENMAYER, D. 2009. Forest Pattern and Ecological Process [electronic resource] : A Synthesis of 25 Years of Research, Melbourne : CSIRO Publishing, 2009.

LITFIN, K. T. 1999. Constructing Environmental Security and Ecological Interdependence. Global Governance, 5, 359.

MICHAELIDOU, M., DECKER, D. J. & LASSOIE, J. P. 2002. The Interdependence of Ecosystem and Community Viability: A Theoretical Framework to Guide Research and Application. Society & Natural Resources, 15, 599-616.

NEWMARK, W. D. & HOUGH, J. L. 2000. Conserving Wildlife in Africa: Integrated Conservation and Development Projects and Beyond. BioScience, 50, 585-592.

RIST, L. & MOEN, J. 2013. Sustainability in forest management and a new role for resilience thinking. Forest Ecology and Management, 310, 416-427.

STEFFEN, W. & HUGHES, L. 2013. The Critical Decade 2013: Climate change science, risks and response. Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education).

THOMPSON, J. D., MATHEVET, R., DELANOË, O., GIL-FOURRIER, C., BONNIN, M. & CHEYLAN, M. 2011. Ecological solidarity as a conceptual tool for rethinking ecological and social interdependence in conservation policy for protected areas and their surrounding landscape. Comptes Rendus Biologies, 334, 412-419.


+ There are no comments

Add yours