The relevance of the boundary concept to ecological processes has been recently questioned. Humans in the post-industrial era have created novel lateral transport fluxes that have not been sufficiently considered in watershed studies. We describe patterns of land-use change within the Potomac River basin and demonstrate how these changes have blurred traditional ecosystem boundaries by increasing the movement of people, materials, and energy into and within the basin. We argue that this expansion of ecological commerce requires new science, monitoring, and management strategies focused on large rivers and suggest that traditional geopolitical and economic boundaries for environmental decision making be appropriately revised. Effective mitigation of the consequences of blurred boundaries will benefit from a broad-scale, interdisciplinary framework that can track and explicitly account for ecological fluxes of water, energy, materials, and organisms across human-dominated landscapes.

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Copyright © 2009, Resilience Alliance Publications. This article first appeared in Ecology and Society 14:2 (2009).

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