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Recreation ecology is the scientific study of environmental impacts resulting from recreational activity in protected natural areas. This field of study includes research and monitoring assessments of biophysical changes, analyses to identify causal and influential factors or support carrying capacity planning and management, and investigations of the efficacy of educational, regulatory, and site management actions designed to minimize recreation impacts. While studies of human trampling can be traced back to the late 1920s, a substantial body of recreation ecology literature did not accumulate until the 1970s when visitation to the outdoors soared, threatening the ecology of natural and semi-natural areas.
Resource elements examined include soil, vegetation, water, and more recently, wildlife and microbes, with the majority of investigations conducted on trails, recreation sites, and campsites. Use-impact relationships, environmental resistance and resilience, management effectiveness, monitoring techniques, and carrying capacity are some of the major themes in recreation ecology. Study results have been applied to inform site and visitor management decisions and to provide scientific inputo to management planning frameworks such as:
- Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC)
- Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP)
Recent growth of ecotourism has prompted a new batch of recreation ecology studies focusing on developing countries where ecotourism is aggressively promoted. There is an increasing concern that ecotourism is not inherently sustainable and, if unchecked, would generate substantial impacts to ecotourism destinations which are often fragile ecosystems.
- Hammitt, W. and Cole, D. (1998) Wildland Recreation: Ecology and Management (2nd ed.), New York: John Wiley.
- Leung, Yu-Fai and Jeffrey L.Marion (2000) Recreation impacts and management in wilderness: A state-of-knowledge review. In: Cole,D.N. and others (eds.), Proceedings: National Wilderness Science Conference;Vol 5: Wilderness ecosystems, threats, and management, pp. 23-48; May 23-27,1999, Missoula, MT. Proceedings RMRS-P-15-Vol-5. Ogden, UT: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. (www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_p015_5/rmrs_p015_5_023_048.pdf)
- Liddle, M. (1997) Recreation Ecology: The Ecological Impact of Outdoor Recreation and Ecotourism, London: Chapman & Hall.
- Monz, C.A., Cole, D.N.. Leung, Y.-F., Marion, J.L. (2010) Sustaining Visitor Use in Protected Areas: Future Opportunities in Recreation Ecology Research Based on the USA Experience. In: Environmental Management 45, 3/2010, pp. 551–562.
- Newsome, D., Moore, S.A. and Dowling, R.K. (2001). Natural Area Tourism: Ecology, Impacts, and Management, Clevedon, UK: Channel View Books.