Oversimplification in Recreation Ecology? (Alternative title: ecologists care about recreation ecology!)

ResearchBlogging.org Given that recreation ecology is an emerging field of study, the journals that we publish in – while good and important journals – do not usually have the highest impact factor or are the most widely read.  However, that may be changing! My advisor, Chris Monz and two Australian colleagues, authored the cover article of this month’s issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.  The October 2013 issue also features a Guest Editorial by another well-known recreation ecologist out of Australia – Ralf Buckley.  Frontiers is a journal published by the Ecological Society of America and hopefully the October issue, which puts recreation ecology in the spotlight, will be just the first step in introducing recreation ecology research to a broader scientific audience.


In a previous post, I mention that recreation ecology only has one concept that we can even venture to call a “theory”; the use-impact relationship.  Generally, we assume that the relationship between recreation use and ecological impact is “curvilinear” – meaning that the most impact will occur with initial use.  The use-impact relationship has guided many management decisions.  In their paper, Monz and his colleagues point out that this relationship was derived from a single ecological response to recreation: vegetation cover loss.  The field of recreation ecology is filled with trampling studies that have supported the use-impact relationship but, obviously, basing a field’s main generalization on only one ecological scenario may be an oversimplification of how systems actually respond to recreation.

Monz et al. suggest various hypothetical response curves for the spectrum of recreation impacts including wildlife, soil, and water.  Their hypothetical curves are founded in recent recreation ecology findings but point out that more research is needed to support these new generalizations. Overall, the message of the paper is that recreation ecology could benefit from additional experimental studies examining the response of ecosystem metrics to recreation.  From a management perspective, recreation management decisions should not be based solely on the idea that impacts always follow a curvilinear response as this may be a oversimplication. The field of recreation ecology has much room to grow and evolve and as a “young” field of inquiry it is important that we continue to broaden our research interests.


Christopher A. Monz, Catherine M. Pickering, & Wade L. Hadwen (2013). Recent advances in recreation ecology and the implications of different relationships between recreation use and ecological impacts Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (8) DOI: 10.1890/120358


6 thoughts on “Oversimplification in Recreation Ecology? (Alternative title: ecologists care about recreation ecology!)

  1. I find this fascinating for several reasons. I retired from academic biology to the Big Bend area of SW Texas, in the middle of one of largest national parks, and the largest state park in Texas. Eco-tourism is concentrated during the fall through early spring months due to the summer climate in the Chihuahuan Desert here. I have wondered about the impact on the ecosystems in both parks, despite their large acreage. Specific locations experience higher traffic and impact due to accessibility, whereas the more remote areas are visited by dispersed tourists and campers. Regardless, these parks are also havens and wildlife corridors for many species, some historically extirpated from this area, such as the Mexican wolf.
    Another interesting aspect of eco-tourism is how it affects the small remote and isolated community here. Not only do visitors impact the park lands and ecosystems, but also those of the community where resources are scarce and infrastructure is minimal. It has been quite educational, and dare I say, entertaining, to observe the fine lines between the rural and ‘wilderness’ boundaries here; how wildlife and people interact, their expectations, and experiences. 🙂

  2. Macrobe – thank you so much for your very thoughtful response! What a wonderful learning experience living so close to public land. Unfortunately, I have yet to make it to Big Bend but desert parks and impacts to desert parks are very interesting to me and I have done some work in Joshua Tree NP.

    You are very astute to point out some of the social aspects related to eco-tourism and the impacts to the economies and livelihoods of “gateway” communities. Hopefully your community’s economy was not too hard hit by the government shutdown. I imagine that October may be a busy time of the month for visitors to Big Bend.

    Very glad that you are enjoying my blog!

  3. Pingback: Science Communication and National Geographic | The Average Visitor

  4. Hi Ashley,
    Great to read your work. You have covered some really insightful topics.
    I’m studying a Masters of Environmental Science at Melbourne University, with recreational ecology as my research component being undertaken in our Alpine National Park (Victoria, Aiustralia).
    A quick question: are there any journals that are must read for recreational ecologists who are interested in human use of National Parks? Frontiers? or maybe something like Journal of Park and Recreation Administration?
    Thanks for your blog!


    • Hi David,

      Thanks so much for your kind words about my blog. Alpine National Park must be a fascinating place to work!

      In terms of journals that are a “must read” there are a few that frequently publish research on recreation impacts in parks of protected areas. Journal of Environmental Management and Environmental Management both publish recreation ecology-type work. Journal of Parks and Rec Administration is good and the research there is usually very focuses on informing management. Depending on the type of work that you do, the International Journal of Wilderness might be a good source for your research or even some of the tourism journals like Tourism Management occasionally have recreation ecology work.

      Hopefully that helps and gives you a good place to start!

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