Editor’s Choice: Volume 109 Issue 6

The Editor’s Choice for our June issue is “Disentangling the social complexities of assisted migration through deliberative methods” by Shannon Hagerman & Robert Kozak. This mini-review identifies a novel deliberative agenda for understanding the societal aspects and implications of plant translocation research and practice.

This article is also part of our new cross-journal Special Focus: Plant translocations and climate change: bioassay, surveillance and solution to a global threat

Here Senior Editor, Yvonne Buckley, explains the importance of this review paper, which she selected as this month’s Editor’s Choice article!

Humans have been moving plants around for millennia, crop plants like wheat and its predecessors moved with the first farmers, garden plants like rhododendron were moved to stately homes and estates to provide fast growing cover and spectacular displays. There are obvious benefits to moving food plants to where people can best grow and consume them, and our gardens are full of exotic colour, providing joy and satisfaction to many. However, there are also risks to moving plants outside of their native range. A plant species moved without its natural enemies into a community it has not evolved with can become invasive, damaging natural ecosystems and causing economic and social harms to people.

As the climate changes, some species are under threat of extinction in their native range and the movement of plants outside of their native range to conserve them is increasingly considered. Risks and benefits of moving species are sometimes apparent to all, but in other cases they depend on the values of the people bearing the potentially positive and negative impacts. But, who gets to decide which plants get moved? Whose values are being acted on? What knowledge is being used to make these decisions?

Figure 1 from Hagerman & Kozak, 2021: Assisted migration within (left) and outside (right) the geographic range).

In their mini-review Hagerman & Kozak explore the ethical, social, and political considerations related to plant translocations and assisted migration in a forest context. They argue that we need to consider the full range of social aspects of translocations, otherwise important aspects outside of narrow measures of ecological and economic domains will not enter into decision making, or social processes that drive potential controversy and risk will be ignored. One solution is to broaden the disciplinary scope for understanding plant translocations, and that we need deliberative methods to connect the new insights gained through broader scope with decision making.

We are entering an era of climate and biodiversity action where transformative societal changes will be needed to develop and broadly apply solutions to these existential challenges. As plant ecologists we need to embrace the importance of fully considering the social dimensions of the applications that our research informs. Hagerman & Kozak use an interdisciplinary case study of the implementation of genomics tools to facilitate the assisted migration of forests in British Columbia to introduce a wide range of deliberative techniques that vary in their level of interactivity from surveys to semi-structured interviews.

East Sooke Regional Park, British Columbia, Canada. Photograph: Michal Klajban, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The use of deliberative methods enabled insight into the reasons explaining the levels of support for the use of genomic methods in plant translocation. It also revealed that people’s opinions about the use of new technology were not set in stone and could be “nudged” by providing new information and alternative framing. This does not mean that if only people knew the science that they would come around to the “right” opinions, but that a fuller understanding of people’s motivations, levels of trust, and perceptions of risk, is needed for implementation of new projects like translocation. Ultimately “public engagement is about policy development, not communication”.

The use of social science methodologies does not degrade the importance of the ecological research we are engaged in but situates science as a “view” from somewhere, and in policy discussions many more views should be heard to frame both the problem and solutions. As Hagerman and Kozak conclude “it is about moving towards, not away from, the richness and complexity that characterizes the world that we inhabit” – a goal that ecologists should certainly applaud.

Yvonne Buckley Senior Editor, Journal of Ecology

You can read the full review by Hagerman & Kozak here:  Disentangling the social complexities of assisted migration through deliberative method

Read all the articles in our cross-journal Special Focus on Plant translocations and climate change: bioassay, surveillance and solution to a global threat

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