Heterogeneity in Management - How Does This Concept Impact Real-World Management?

Historically, most natural resource management decisions have focused on reducing variability and increasing predictability in landscapes. Examples include dam construction to reduce interannual flooding variation and pest extermination to maximize agricultural output (Fuhlendorf et al. 2017). Heterogeneity in modern agricultural systems is extremely low. Most crop producers grow monocultures of crops and suppress all other plant growth (i.e. weeds or native plants). A goal of modern agriculture is to create a homogeneous field to maximize yields which can be seen in the picture on the right in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Pictures of a homogenous and heterogeneous ecosystem. A nearly homogenous wheat field on the right and a heterogenous grassland/ meadow with many different grasses, flowers and trees on the left.

Systems tend to have low resilience when there is less heterogeneity present in space and time (Gunderson et al. 2010). While reducing heterogeneity creates easier harvesting and higher crop yields, monocultures are at greater risk of collapse from disturbance, such as disease. In this scenario, intensive management is needed to coerce the system into remaining homogenous. Incorporating heterogeneity into managed systems may reduce the necessity of intensive management and result in systems less vulnerable to disturbance or collapse.