Subscribe
Subscribe
MY AMERICAN SCIENTIST
LOG IN! REGISTER!
SEARCH
 
Logo IMG
HOME > PAST ISSUE > Article Detail

LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

Shifting Baselines

To the Editors:

I found Robert Pringle’s article “How to Be Manipulative” (January–February) to be quite stimulating. His field of experimental ecology shows great promise for ecosystem restoration and conservation. I would like to address his discussion of where to set the baseline for a “pristine wilderness.” Pringle does a nice job reviewing the history of debunking the naive concept of a preindustrial Eden. But where do we draw the baseline? I think the concept of shifting baselines, elaborated by marine biologist Jeremy Jackson, applies well here. As Pringle points out, there was no pristine wilderness in North America before Europeans arrived because the preexisting humans had already fundamentally altered the ecosystem. It is anthropocentric to think there was a pristine wilderness in pre-Clovis North America, because that ecosystem was still recovering from a massive ice age 18,000 years ago. How far back in time do we have to go to find “pristine”? The process of evolution inherently precludes the selection of a baseline.

Marcus Key
Dickinson College


comments powered by Disqus
 

EMAIL TO A FRIEND :

Subscribe to American Scientist