Thursday, August 6, 2009 - 4:00 PM

OOS 41-8: Conserving marine ecosystem services in a changing world

Heather M. Leslie, Brown University and Karen L. McLeod, COMPASS and Oregon State University.


Conventional management approaches cannot meet the challenges faced by marine ecosystems today. Consequently, national and international bod­ies have called for movement towards ecosystem-based management (EBM). At its core, EBM is about acknowledging con­nections. EBM focuses on the array of ecosystem services that we receive from marine systems, the interactive and cumulative effects of multiple human activities, and the importance of working towards common goals across sectors. One key to the successful EBM is understanding the factors that contribute to social and ecological resilience, that is, the extent to which a system can maintain its structure, function, and identity in the face of disturbance. Utilizing the resilience framework, practitioners can better predict how systems will respond to a variety of disturbances, including climate change and associated impacts. In the light of the urgent need to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies in response to climate change, a number of questions emerge: What can we learn about successful strategies based on how marine ecosystems and associated human communities responded to climate variability in the past? What does this tell us about how they may respond in the future? How can the emerging science of resilience contribute to the design of effective strategies?

We first will describe a conceptual model of climate change effects on marine systems, focused on key linkages among atmospheric and oceanographic drivers, ecological systems, ecosystem services and human communities. Too often the lens through which related frameworks have been developed has been partial, e.g. with a focus on natural hazards or fisheries or water availability, rather than an integration of the connections among different human activities and ecological components. In this framework, we emphasize the importance of connections (e.g., among social and ecological systems, among species and functional groups, and among different human activities); consideration of multiple scales, and the likely existence of multiple ‘stable’ ecological and social states.  We then use this framework to structure an analysis of the interactions among humans and other coastal ecosystem components, with attention to examples of both climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies as well as responses to climate variability, e.g. to El Nino events. Based on the case studies, we conclude with recommendations for how to design ecosystem-based approaches to address climate change impacts to marine systems in the future.