Marine Science Faculty Publications

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food web, ensemble model, restoration, ecosystem model, management decisions

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Coastal ecosystems are experiencing degradation from compound impacts of climate change and multiple anthropogenic disturbances. These pressures often act synergistically and complicate designing effective conservation measures; consequently, large-scale coastal restoration actions become a wicked problem. The purpose of this study was to use two different food web models in a coordinated manner to inform resource managers in their assessment of the ecological effects of a large-scale marsh restoration project. A team was formed that included the model developers and outside scientists, who were asked to use available model results of the calibrated simulations of an Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE) model and a Comprehensive Aquatic Systems Model (CASM), both designed to describe the structure and energetics of the Barataria Bay, Louisiana, United States food web. Both models offer somewhat different depictions of the predator-prey and competitive interactions of species within the food web, and how environmental conditions affect the species biomass pools and energetics. Collectively, the team evaluated the strengths of each model and derived a common set of indicator variables from model outputs that provided information on the structure and energy flow of the simulated food web. Considering the different modeling structures and calibration approaches, indicators were interpreted within and between models. Use of both models enabled a robust determination that: (1) Detritus plays a vital role in the energetics of the system; (2) The food web responds to spring high flow seasons by increasing productivity through specific, dominant pathways; (3) The trophic pyramid is truncated; (4) Compared to other estuaries, this system has redundant pathways for energy transfer. These findings indicate that the food web appears to be resilient to disturbance because of a detritus energy reserve, most consumer biomass consists of low trophic level, high turnover species, and redundant energy pathways exist. This information provides context to decision-makers for assessing possible basin-scale impacts on fish and shellfish resources of a proposed large-scale restoration project. The use of multiple models in a coordinated but not overly constrained way, as demonstrated here, provides a significant step toward co-production of knowledge for use in resource management decisions.

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Frontiers in Marine Science, v. 8, art. 625790

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