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Regime Shifts and Ecosystem Services in Swedish Coastal Soft Bottom Habitats: When Resilience is Undesirable

Max Troell, Leif Pihl, Patrik Rönnbäck, Håkan Wennhage, Tore Söderqvist and Nils Kautsky, 2005 Ecology and Society 10 (1): 30


Ecosystems can undergo regime shifts where they suddenly change from one state into another. This can have important implications for formulation of management strategies, if system characteristics develop that are undesirable from a human perspective, and that have a high resistance to restoration efforts. This paper identifies some of the ecological and economic consequences of increased abundance of filamentous algae on shallow soft bottoms along the Swedish west coast. It is suggested that a successive increase in the sediment nutrient pool has undermined the resilience of these shallow systems. After the regime shift has occurred, self-generation properties evolve keeping the system locked in a high-density algae state. The structural and functional characteristics of the new system state differ significantly from the original one, resulting in less valuable ecosystem goods and services generated for society. In Sweden, loss of value results from the reduced capacity for mitigating further coastal eutrophication, reduced habitat quality for commercial fishery species, and the loss of aesthetic and recreational values.

Keywords: alternate stable states, shallow soft bottoms, eutrophication, filamentous algal mats, resilience, ecosystem function, ecosystem goods and services.

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