Identifying Thresholds for Ecosystem-Based Management – Help for resource managers and policy makers

One of the greatest obstacles to moving ecosystem-based management (EBM) from concept to practice is the lack of a systematic approach to defining ecosystem-level decision criteria, or reference points that trigger management action.

Methodology/Principal Findings

To assist resource managers and policymakers in developing EBM decision criteria, we introduce a quantitative, transferable method for identifying utility thresholds. A utility threshold is the level of human-induced pressure (e.g., pollution) at which small changes produce substantial improvements toward the EBM goal of protecting an ecosystem’s structural (e.g., diversity) and functional (e.g., resilience) attributes. The analytical approach is based on the detection of nonlinearities in relationships between ecosystem attributes and pressures. We illustrate the method with a hypothetical case study of (1) fishing and (2) nearshore habitat pressure using an empirically-validated marine ecosystem model for British Columbia, Canada, and derive numerical threshold values in terms of the density of two empirically-tractable indicator groups, sablefish and jellyfish. We also describe how to incorporate uncertainty into the estimation of utility thresholds and highlight their value in the context of understanding EBM trade-offs.

Conclusions/Significance

For any policy scenario, an understanding of utility thresholds provides insight into the amount and type of management intervention required to make significant progress toward improved ecosystem structure and function. The approach outlined in this paper can be applied in the context of single or multiple human-induced pressures, to any marine, freshwater, or terrestrial ecosystem, and should facilitate more effective management.

Read the full article and recommendations here.

Citation: Samhouri JF, Levin PS, Ainsworth CH (2010) Identifying Thresholds for Ecosystem-Based Management. PLoS ONE 5(1): e8907. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008907

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