Warfare Ecology

Machlis and Hanson present a really cool new research area in this month’s issue of BioScience: “Warfare Ecology.” Their article is fascinating, and brings together a lot of things that conservation biologists have recognized as true individually, but that I’d never seen aggregated under this banner before. They hit on the fact that war and its three stages (“Preparations,” “War,” and “Postwar activities”) have many consequences for the environment, both good and bad.

Some of the better-known examples of human conflict being a net positive for biodiversity is the Korean DMZ, where nature has been left “untouched” because of the conflict. Another example is the use of Department of Defense land in the U.S. to conserve threatened and endangered species. I’ve heard it said a number of times that the DoD is one of the leaders in the federal government in conservation because they have the money to do so. They’d much rather solve the problem on their land,get over it and get back to training than be caught up in protracted court battles — doesn’t that sound too refreshing to be true? Well, at least with the red-cockaded woodpecker, it’s accurate.

On the other hand, of course, war can obviously be terrible for biodiversity. They point to a survey of hippopotami in Virunga before and after the Congolese civil war, where their population dropped from 30,000 individuals to 629. I’m also reminded of this article from Science by Cohen and Carlton on invasions in the San Francisco Bay that showed a serious turning point around World War II. In this case, the global war seems to have ramped up industrialization to new levels.

The authors point out that “the cascading effects of warfare are crucial and complex,” and give a few examples including when “military expenditures may preclude spending for needed environmental management, leading to a decline in ecosystem services that further intensifies resource conflicts.”

So, yeah. There are lots of fascinating questions that could be asked about this branch of ecology. On the other hand, anybody pursuing such research is going to be have to be particularly sensitive to a potential backlash. We’ve already got enough of a misanthropic reputation; studying nature in the face of war isn’t going to help.

Gary E Machlis and Thor Hanson. Warfare Ecology. BioScience, 58:8. (doi: 10.1641/B580809)

Posted by Tim on September 3rd, 2008 • • 3 comments
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3 Responses to 'Warfare Ecology'

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  1. Peter Foerster said, on October 13th, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Sadly, there is nothing new in this article by Machlis and Hanson. Rather this is a rehash of what more well-known experts on war and conflict have always written about. The effects of war and conflict on the environment or ecology is not a new cool topic. More well-known experts aside from bringing it up ahead of these authors, have also discussed the effects singularly and as a whole which this article fails to do so. Cascading effects follows a systems approach which again, is nothing new. Machlis and Hanson introduce nothing new nor do they offer suggestions on how to avoid resource conflicts in war-torn areas.

  2. Tim said, on October 13th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Peter, thank you for your comment. This paper struck me as new in the sense that they were introducing “warfare ecology” as a discipline, linking separate phenomena together under a single heading. It struck me more as a synthesis of previous research than an introduction of new data. If you have specific references for previous work on warfare ecology, that the authors did not cite, it would be great if you could share them.

  3. Warfare Ecology | Deep Sea News said, on March 12th, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    [...] excellent write up of this paper occured at Conservation Blog Machlis, G., & Hanson, T. (2008). Warfare Ecology BioScience, 58 (8) DOI: [...]