Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2010

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0008907

Abstract

Background: 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.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

PLoS ONE, v. 5, issue 1, art. e8907

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Public Domain declaration which stipulates that, once placed in the public domain, this work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose.

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