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Confronting Feedbacks of Degraded Marine Ecosystems

Nyström, M., A.V. Norström, T. Bleckner, M. de la Torre Castro, J.S. Eklöf, C. Folke, H. Österblom, R.S. Steneck, M. Thyresson, and M. Troell (2012). Ecosystems 15:695-710.


In many coastal areas, marine ecosystems have shifted into contrasting states having reduced ecosystem services (hereafter called degraded). Such degraded ecosystems may be slow to revert to their original state due to new ecological feedbacks that reinforce the degraded state. A better understanding of the way human actions influence the strength and direction of feedbacks, how different feedbacks could interact, and at what scales they operate, may be necessary in some cases for successful management of marine ecosystems. Here we synthesize interactions of critical feedbacks of the degraded states from six globally distinct biomes: coral reefs, kelp forests, seagrass beds, shallow soft sediments, oyster reefs, and coastal pelagic food webs. We explore to what extent current management captures these feedbacks and propose strategies for how and when (that is, windows of opportunity) to influence feedbacks in ways to break the resilience of the degraded ecosystem states. We conclude by proposing some challenges for future research that could improve our understanding of these issues and emphasize that management of degraded marine states will require a broad social–ecological approach to succeed.

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Keywords: alternative states; degradation; feedbacks; management; marine ecosystems; regime shift; resilience; restoration.

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