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.
Ecosystem-based Management (EBM)
In the vicinity of tipping points—or more precisely bifurcation points—ecosystems recover slowly from small perturbations. Such slowness may be interpreted as a sign of low resilience in the sense that the ecosystem could easily be tipped through a critical transition into a contrasting state. Indicators of this phenomenon of ‘critical slowing down (CSD)’ include a rise in temporal correlation and variance. Such indicators of CSD can provide an early warning signal of a nearby tipping point. Or, they may offer a possibility to rank reefs, lakes or other ecosystems according to their resilience. The fact that CSD may happen across a wide range of complex ecosystems close to tipping points implies a powerful generality. However, indicators of CSD are not manifested in all cases where regime shifts occur. This is because not all regime shifts are associated with tipping points. Here, we review the exploding literature about this issue to provide guidance on what to expect and what not to expect when it comes to the CSD-based early warning signals for critical transitions.