There is growing demand for information regarding the impacts of decisions on ecosystem services and human benefits. Despite the large and growing quantity of published ecosystem services research, there remains a substantial gap between this research and the information required to support decisions. Research often provides models and tools that do not fully link social and ecological systems; are too complex, specialized, and costly to use; and are targeted to outcomes that differ from those needed by decision makers. Decision makers require cost-effective, straightforward, transferable, scalable, meaningful, and defensible methods that can be readily understood. We provide illustrative examples of these gaps between research and practice and describe how researchers can make their work relevant to decision makers by using Benefit Relevant Indicators (BRIs) and choosing models appropriate for particular decision contexts. We use examples primarily from the United States, including cases that illustrate varying degrees of success in closing these gaps. We include a discussion of the challenges and opportunities researchers face in adapting their work to meet the needs of practitioners.
We analyze scientific literature that report tools to spatially model ecosystem services (ES). In the 65 articles reviewed, the most used model starting in 2001 was SWAT and starting in 2009 the most commonly used was InVEST. Eighty percent of the scientific articles have been published from 2010 to 2015 suggesting that spatial modeling of ES is an emergent research field. Only 4 of the 9 tools encountered in our review are backed by papers, the others only offer grey literature. The spatial modeling of ES is mainly done in the U.S.A. and China, and the most frequently evaluated ES are related to hydrological services (water provision and quality treatment), climate regulation and soil formation. Most of the studies are done along hydrological basins, at different spatial scales and based upon different map resolution ranging from 20 to 900 m. With concern, we observe the lack of validation of the spatial models and the tools’ lack of integrated validation modules. As long as the tools used to spatially model ecosystem services continue to be used as black boxes, the models they generate will suffer from a high degree of uncertainty and will not be reliable for decision making purposes.
The end of the Pliocene marked the beginning of a period of great climatic variability and sea-level oscillations. Here, based on a new analysis of the fossil record, we identify a previously unrecognized extinction event among marine megafauna (mammals, seabirds, turtles and sharks) during this time, with extinction rates three times higher than in the rest of the Cenozoic, and with 36% of Pliocene genera failing to survive into the Pleistocene. To gauge the potential consequences of this event for ecosystem functioning, we evaluate its impacts on functional diversity, focusing on the 86% of the megafauna genera that are associated with coastal habitats. Seven (14%) coastal functional entities (unique trait combinations) disappeared, along with 17% of functional richness (volume of the functional space). The origination of new genera during the Pleistocene created new functional entities and contributed to a functional shift of 21%, but minimally compensated for the functional space lost. Reconstructions show that from the late Pliocene onwards, the global area of the neritic zone significantly diminished and exhibited amplified fluctuations. We hypothesize that the abrupt loss of productive coastal habitats, potentially acting alongside oceanographic alterations, was a key extinction driver. The importance of area loss is supported by model analyses showing that animals with high energy requirements (homeotherms) were more susceptible to extinction. The extinction event we uncover here demonstrates that marine megafauna were more vulnerable to global environmental changes in the recent geological past than previously thought.
Conflict surrounding commercial fisheries is a common phenomenon when diverse stakeholders are involved. Harvesting reef fish for the global ornamental fish trade has provoked conflict since the late 1970s in the State of Hawaii. Two decades later the state of Hawaii established a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) on the west coast of the island of Hawaii (“West Hawaii”) to protect and enhance the fish resources and alleviate conflict between stakeholders, principally between commercial dive tour operators and aquarium fishers. The perceptions held by these stakeholders on West Hawaii and Maui were evaluated to understand how MPAs influenced conflict dimensions, as the former location had a well-established MPA network designed to alleviate conflict, while the latter did not. This was accomplished by analyzing the following questions: (1) perceptions about the effectiveness of MPAs to alleviate conflict and enhance reef fish; (2) perceived group encounters and threats to coral reefs; (3) willingness to encourage fishing; and (4) value orientations toward the aquarium fish trade. The results indicate the MPAs in West Hawaii were moderately effective for alleviating conflict, encounters between stakeholders occurred on both islands, dive operators strongly opposed commercial fishing and perceived aquarium fishing as a serious threat to the coral reef ecosystem, and polarized value orientations toward the aquarium fish trade confirms pervasive social values conflict. The conflict between these groups was also asymmetrical. MPAs are inadequate for resolving long term conflict between groups who hold highly dissimilar value orientations toward the use of marine resources. Future marine spatial planning and MPA setting processes should include stakeholder value and conflict assessments to avoid and manage tensions between competing user groups.
In the CMSP decision-making process, as outlined in the NOP, decision-making authority is provided to the regional planning bodies, which are composed of federal, tribal, and state officials. The NOP recognizes that the coastal and marine spatial plans will need to respond to the needs of all who rely on the marine environment for economic and environmental services, and that effective consultation with the full range of these groups is essential to build the relationships needed to achieve national and regional goals for ocean management. Therefore, stakeholder involvement in the development of regional plans is an important responsibility assigned to the regional planning bodies.
The purpose of this document is to provide an overarching set of suggested principles for effectively engaging all stakeholders in a CMSP process. In developing this informational resource document, the Udall Foundation’s U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (U.S. Institute) reviewed current and past CMSP stakeholder processes in the United States and internationally, analyzed academic literature on stakeholder engagement best practices, and reviewed surveys and white papers about desirable stakeholder involvement mechanisms from various interest groups, including government, tribal, environmental and ocean user groups. The principles described in this document are drawn from this research and from the U.S. Institute’s experience in developing similar guidelines for a range of complex federal and regional stakeholder involvement efforts.
Changes in the Earth's environment are now sufficiently complex that our ability to forecast the emergent ecological consequences of ocean acidification (OA) is limited. Such projections are challenging because the effects of OA may be enhanced, reduced or even reversed by other environmental stressors or interactions among species. Despite an increasing emphasis on multifactor and multispecies studies in global change biology, our ability to forecast outcomes at higher levels of organization remains low. Much of our failure lies in a poor mechanistic understanding of nonlinear responses, a lack of specificity regarding the levels of organization at which interactions can arise, and an incomplete appreciation for linkages across these levels. To move forward, we need to fully embrace interactions. Mechanistic studies on physiological processes and individual performance in response to OA must be complemented by work on population and community dynamics. We must also increase our understanding of how linkages and feedback among multiple environmental stressors and levels of organization can generate nonlinear responses to OA. This will not be a simple undertaking, but advances are of the utmost importance as we attempt to mitigate the effects of ongoing global change.
A holistic methodological procedure to assess estuarine vulnerability within a spatio-temporal framework is presented. This approach quantifies the vulnerability of estuaries to point-source pollution considering the physical processes, the ecological features, and the social aspects related to the existing estuarine ecosystem services. Estuarine vulnerability is referred to those characteristics of an estuarine ecosystem that describe its potential to be harmed. Thus, vulnerability is presented as a combination of four parameters: Tidal Zoning (TZ), State of Conservation (SC), Susceptibility (SU), and Stratification (ST). TZ differs between intertidal and subtidal zones. SC is determined as a combination of Naturalness (NA) and Ecological Value (EV). NA is defined as the absence of physical anthropogenic modifications, and EV is described as the presence of singular flora and fauna. While SU is related to the flushing or cleaning capacity, ST accounts for the location of mixed, partially mixed/stratified and stratified areas in the estuary. Subsequently, categories, thresholds and assessment criteria for every parameter, and a composite index to integrate all of them, namely the Estuarine Vulnerability Index (EVI), are presented. EVI has been applied to the Suances Estuary (N Spain) to find out the optimal locations for hypothetical point discharges. The results obtained for the Suances Estuary confirm the suitability of the proposed methodology and its conceptual approach as a comprehensive and practical management tool to quantify and prioritize estuarine areas receiving point-source pollution.
Marine spatial planning (MSP) is an emerging responsibility of resource managers around the United States and elsewhere. A key proposed advantage of MSP is that it makes tradeoffs in resource use and sector (stakeholder group) values explicit, but doing so requires tools to assess tradeoffs. We extended tradeoff analyses from economics to simultaneously assess multiple ecosystem services and the values they provide to sectors using a robust, quantitative, and transparent framework. We used the framework to assess potential conflicts among offshore wind energy, commercial fishing, and whale-watching sectors in Massachusetts and identify and quantify the value from choosing optimal wind farm designs that minimize conflicts among these sectors. Most notably, we show that using MSP over conventional planning could prevent >$1 million dollars in losses to the incumbent fishery and whale-watching sectors and could generate >$10 billion in extra value to the energy sector. The value of MSP increased with the greater the number of sectors considered and the larger the area under management. Importantly, the framework can be applied even when sectors are not measured in dollars (e.g., conservation). Making tradeoffs explicit improves transparency in decision-making, helps avoid unnecessary conflicts attributable to perceived but weak tradeoffs, and focuses debate on finding the most efficient solutions to mitigate real tradeoffs and maximize sector values. Our analysis demonstrates the utility, feasibility, and value of MSP and provides timely support for the management transitions needed for society to address the challenges of an increasingly crowded ocean environment.
Coral reefs worldwide are shifting from high-diversity, coral-dominated communities to low-diversity systems dominated by seaweeds. This shift can impact essential recovery processes such as larval recruitment and ecosystem resilience. Recent evidence suggests that chemical cues from certain corals attract, and from certain seaweeds suppress, recruitment of juvenile fishes, with loss of coral cover and increases in seaweed cover creating negative feedbacks that prevent reef recovery and sustain seaweed dominance. Unfortunately, the level of seaweed increase and coral decline that creates this chemically cued tipping point remains unknown, depriving managers of data-based targets to prevent damaging feedbacks. We conducted flume and field assays that suggest juvenile fishes sense and respond to cues produced by low levels of seaweed cover. However, the herbivore species we tested was more tolerant of degraded reef cues than non-herbivores, possibly providing some degree of resilience if these fishes recruit, consume macroalgae, and diminish negative cues.
According to density-dependent habitat selection theory, areas of high density can be indicative of high population productivity and have positive individual fitness consequences. Here, we explore six groundfish populations on the Scotian Shelf, Canada, where a decline in areas of high density beyond a certain threshold is associated with disproportionately large declines in Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB). This is evidenced by empirical, concave, positive relationships between high-density areas (HDAs) and SSB. We introduce a methodology to estimate the threshold below which SSB declines increasingly faster per unit of HDA decline. The spatial threshold among these six stocks was remarkably consistent; when stocks lose 70–80% of HDAs, disproportionately large SSB declines are likely to occur. We propose that spatial thresholds could serve as spatial reference points to complement existing SSB limit reference points (LRPs). For some stocks we identify spatial thresholds which correspond to SSB levels that exceed those associated with the designated SSB LRP, suggesting that a review of these SSB LRPs warrants merit. For other stocks, spatial reference points can be used in concert with SSB reference points, strengthening efforts to incorporate a precautionary approach to fisheries management. Our results warrant further research into the general application of HDA as spatial limit and target reference points for fisheries management in addition to other population status indicators within a broad recovery framework.
To demonstrate how ecosystem service tradeoff models might help decision makers predict the effects of proposed management approaches, SeaPlan collaborated with research teams from New England and the West Coast in 2009 to conduct a two and a half year pilot study analyzing multi-use issues in Northern Massachusetts Bay. The area includes active maritime commerce, two provisional wind energy areas and well-studied, protected waters in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The two research teams applied different modeling approaches intended to support resource managers during decision making processes. One team led by researchers from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) used the concept of efficiency frontiers from the field of economics to examine how siting an offshore wind farm would affect the ecological and economic aspects of commercial fishing and whale watching. The other team led by researchers from Boston University and University of Vermont used a complex platform called Multiscale Integrated Model of Ecosystem Services (MIMES) to simulate the interplay between commercial fishing, whale watching, offshore wind energy and conservation. To make the technical results understandable to a broad audience, researchers created a user-friendly interface called the Marine Integrated Decision Analysis System (MIDAS). The Northern Massachusetts Bay pilot study demonstrated that ecosystem service tradeoff models can improve understanding of complex interactions within human-marine ecosystems and help visualize likely outcomes resulting from management actions taken across multiple sectors. The research suggests such tools can point to options that are more comprehensive and cost-effective when compared to typical sector-by-sector ocean management.
Ocean acidification is projected to lower the Ωar of reef waters by 0.3-0.4 units by the end of century making it more difficult for calcifying organisms to secrete calcium carbonate while at the same time making the environment more favorable for abiotic and biotic dissolution of the reef framework. There is great interest in being able to project the point in time when coral reefs will cross the tipping point between being net depositional to net erosional in terms of their carbonate budgets. Periodic in situ assessments of the balance between carbonate production and dissolution that spans seasonal time scales may prove useful in monitoring and formulating projections of the impact of ocean acidification on reef carbonate production. This study represents the first broad scale geochemical survey of the rates of net community production (NCP) and net community calcification (NCC) across the Florida Reef Tract (FRT). Surveys were performed at approximately quarterly intervals in 2009-10 across seven onshore-offshore transects spanning the upper, middle and lower Florida Keys. Averaged across the FRT, the rates of NCP and NCC were positive during the spring/summer at 62 ± 7 and 17 ± 2 mmol m-2 d-1, respectively, and negative during the fall/winter at -33 ± 6 and -7 ± 2 mmol m-2 d-1. The most significant finding of the study was that the northern-most reef is already net erosional (-1.1 ± 0.4 kg CaCO3 m-2 y-1) and mid-reefs to the south were net depositional on an annual basis (0.4 ± 0.1 kg CaCO3 m-2 y-1) but erosional during the fall and winter. Only the two southern-most reefs were net depositional year-round. These results indicate that parts of the FRT have already crossed the tipping point for carbonate production and other parts are getting close.
Many countries are legally obliged to embrace ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. Reductions in bycatch and physical habitat damage are now commonplace, but mitigating more sophisticated impacts associated with the ecological functions of target fisheries species are in their infancy. Here we model the impacts of a parrotfish fishery on the future state and resilience of Caribbean coral reefs, enabling us to view the tradeoff between harvest and ecosystem health. We find that the implementation of a simple and enforceable size restriction of >30 cm provides a win:win outcome in the short term, delivering both ecological and fisheries benefits and leading to increased yield and greater coral recovery rate for a given harvest rate. However, maintaining resilient coral reefs even until 2030 requires the addition of harvest limitations (<10% of virgin fishable biomass) to cope with a changing climate and induced coral disturbances, even in reefs that are relatively healthy today. Managing parrotfish is not a panacea for protecting coral reefs but can play a role in sustaining the health of reefs and high-quality habitat for reef fisheries.
The landing obligation policy was one of the major innovations introduced in the last Common Fisheries Policy reform in Europe. It is foreseen that the policy will affect the use of fishing opportunities and hence the economic performance of the fleets. The problem with fishing opportunities could be solved if single-stock total allowable catches (TACs) could be achieved simultaneously for all the stocks. In this study, we evaluate the economic impact of the landing obligation policy on the Spanish demersal fleet operating in the Iberian Sea region. To generate TAC advice, we used two sets of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) reference points, the single-stock MSY reference points defined by ICES and a set of multistock reference points calculated simultaneously using a bioeconomic optimization model. We found that the impact of the landing obligation is time and fleet dependent and highly influenced by assumptions about fleet dynamics. At fishery level, multistock reference points mitigate the decrease in the net present value generated by the implementation of the landing obligation. However at fleet level, the effect depends on the fleet itself and the period. To ensure the optimum use of fishing opportunities, the landing obligation should be accompanied by a management system that guarantees consistency between single-stock TACs. In this regard, multistock reference points represent an improvement over those currently in use. However, further investigation is necessary to enhance performance both at fleet level and in the long term.
Ecosystem management (EM) suffers from linguistic uncertainty surrounding the definition of “EM” and how it can be operationalized. Using fisheries management as an example, we clarify how EM exists in different paradigms along a continuum, starting with a single-species focus and building towards a more systemic and multi-sector perspective. Focusing on the specification of biological and other systemic reference points (SRPs) used in each paradigm and its related regulatory and governance structures, we compare and contrast similarities among these paradigms. We find that although EM is a hierarchical continuum, similar SRPs can be used throughout the continuum, but the scope of these reference points are broader at higher levels of management. This work interprets the current state of the conversation, and may help to clarify the levels of how EM is applied now and how it can be applied in the future, further advancing its implementation.
Combined pressures from climate change, resources demand and environmental degradation could lead to the collapse of marine systems and increase the vulnerability of populations dependent on them. In this paper an adaptability envelope framework is applied to investigate how governance arrangements may be addressing changing conditions of marine social-ecological systems, particularly where thresholds might have been crossed. The analysis focuses on three Australian case studies that have been significantly impacted by variations or changes in weather and climate over the past decade. Findings indicate that, in some cases, global scale drivers are triggering tipping points, which challenge the potential success of existing governance arrangements at the local scale. Governance interventions to address tipping points have been predominantly reactive, despite existing scientific evidence indicating that thresholds are approaching and/or being crossed. It is argued that marine governance arrangements need to be framed so that they also anticipate increasing marine social-ecological system vulnerability, and therefore build appropriate adaptive capacity to buffer against potential tipping points.
In order to perform a science-based evaluation of ecosystem service tradeoffs, research is needed on the impacts to ecosystem services from multiple human activities and their associated stressors (‘impact-pathways’). Whereas research frameworks and models abound, the evidence-base detailing these pathways for trade-off evaluation has not been well characterized. Toward this end, we review the evidence for impact-pathways using estuaries as a case study, focusing on seagrass and shellfish. Keyword searches of peer-reviewed literature revealed 2379 studies for a broad suite of impact-pathways, but closer inspection demonstrated that the vast majority of these made connections only rhetorically, and only 4.6% (based on a subset of 250 studies) actually evaluated impacts of stressors on ecosystem services. Furthermore, none of the reviewed studies tested pathways based on metrics of ecosystem services value that are most relevant to beneficiaries. Multi-activity tradeoff evaluation and management will require a concerted effort to structure ecosystem-based research around impact-pathways.
The use of management strategy evaluation (MSE) techniques to inform strategic decision-making is now standard in fisheries management. The technical aspects of MSE, including how to design operating models that represent the managed system and how to simulate future use of management strategies, are well understood and can be readily applied, especially for single-species fisheries. However, MSE evaluations seldom identify strategies that will satisfy all the objectives of decision-makers simultaneously, i.e. each strategy will achieve a different trade-off among the objectives. This study illustrates the basis for identifying management objectives and representing them mathematically using performance measures, as well as how trade-offs among management objectives have been displayed to various audiences who provide input into decision-making. Approaches and experiences are illustrated using case studies. Examples highlight the wide variety of objectives that can be considered using MSE, but that traditional single-species considerations continue to dominate the information provided to decision-makers. The desirability and consequences of having minimum acceptable standards of performance for management strategies, as well as difficulties assigning plausibility ranks to alternative states of nature, are found to be among the major challenges to effective provision of strategic advice on trade-offs among management strategies.
lthough the literature surrounding the development of decision support tools (DSTs) has rapidly expanded in recent years, their use in marine spatial planning (MSP) processes remains limited. Tradeoff analysis is considered essential to the MSP process by most implementation guides, but the use of DSTs to conduct tradeoff analysis is rare. Here I identify the barriers to widespread use of DSTs for tradeoff analysis. To inform this objective, I conduct an independent assessment of three DSTs that have been used in MSP in order to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each. Based on this analysis, I identify weaknesses that may contribute to infrequent use in tradeoff analysis and MSP development. Ultimately, three major barriers are detected: 1) significant data requirements impede institutional capacity to use DSTs; 2) lack of sufficient documentation and information available to practitioners; and 3) outputs that can be difficult to interpret for stakeholders and decision-makers. Because of the barriers identified, practitioners may benefit from using simpler tools as part of a broader stakeholder process.
Biological limit reference points (LRPs) for fisheries catch represent upper bounds that avoid undesirable population states. LRPs can support consistent management evaluation among species and regions, and can advance ecosystem-based fisheries management. For transboundary species, LRPs prorated by local abundance can inform local management decisions when international coordination is lacking. We estimated LRPs for western Pacific leatherbacks in the U.S. West Coast Exclusive Economic Zone (WCEEZ) using three approaches with different types of information on local abundance. For the current application, the best-informed LRP used a local abundance estimate derived from nest counts, vital rate information, satellite tag data, and fishery observer data, and was calculated with a Potential Biological Removal estimator. Management strategy evaluation was used to set tuning parameters of the LRP estimators to satisfy risk tolerances for falling below population thresholds, and to evaluate sensitivity of population outcomes to bias in key inputs. We estimated local LRPs consistent with three hypothetical management objectives: allowing the population to rebuild to its maximum net productivity level (4.7 turtles per five years), limiting delay of population rebuilding (0.8 turtles per five years), or only preventing further decline (7.7 turtles per five years). These LRPs pertain to all human-caused removals and represent the WCEEZ contribution to meeting population management objectives within a broader international cooperative framework. We present multi-year estimates, because at low LRP values, annual assessments are prone to substantial error that can lead to volatile and costly management without providing further conservation benefit. The novel approach and the performance criteria used here are not a direct expression of the “jeopardy” standard of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but they provide useful assessment information and could help guide international management frameworks. Given the range of abundance data scenarios addressed, LRPs should be estimable for many other areas, populations, and taxa.