Emergent patterns in nature and society

Marine Regime Shifts: Drivers and Impacts on Ecosystem Services

That’s the title of the recently published paper by my colleagues and me on Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.  The link takes you to the journal webpage where you can download the paper for free, we made it open access. It went online on late November, and the printed version was the first issue of 2015, an special edition on marine regime shifts just in time for the 350 anniversary of the journal. Here is the abstract:

Marine ecosystems can experience regime shifts, in which they shift from being organized around one set of mutually reinforcing structures and processes to another. Anthropogenic global change has broadly increased a wide variety of processes that can drive regime shifts. To assess the vulnerability of marine ecosystems to such shifts and their potential consequences, we reviewed the scientific literature for 13 types of marine regime shifts and used networks to conduct an analysis of co-occurrence of drivers and ecosystem service impacts. We found that regime shifts are caused by multiple drivers and have multiple consequences that co-occur in a non-random pattern. Drivers related to food production, climate change and coastal development are the most common co-occurring causes of regime shifts, while cultural services, biodiversity and primary production are the most common cluster of ecosystem services affected. These clusters prioritize sets of drivers for management and highlight the need for coordinated actions across multiple drivers and scales to reduce the risk of marine regime shifts. Managerial strategies are likely to fail if they only address well-understood or data-rich variables, and international cooperation and polycentric institutions will be critical to implement and coordinate action across the scales at which different drivers operate. By better understanding these underlying patterns, we hope to inform the development of managerial strategies to reduce the risk of high-impact marine regime shifts, especially for areas of the world where data are not available or monitoring programmes are not in place.

I have to confess it’s my first publication on a scientific journal, and that the open access rights were a bit delayed. It is very rewarding when someone you don’t know write you an email asking for your work, it means someone finds your stuff worth reading. Thus, when it was not open access, I got quite few emails of people asking for the pdf, once it was open access, emails decreased. Then I realised that open access reduces the old school asking papers directly to the author, which I enjoy both asking and giving. Open access, despite giving up the little pleasures of old school academia, does expand the horizons of your research bringing knowledge at the clicks of your fingerprints: that’s the pleasure of modern academia.

The paper has attracted the attention of few scientist and the policy making community. The European commission contacted me in late January to cover the key results of the paper and include them on their newsletter ‘Science for Environment Policy‘. They did an excellent work at summarising  the results on a pager that you can access here [PDF] in case you feel lazy of reading the full paper. Shortly, emails from the Norwegian Environmental Agency, European Marine Board, and the German Maritime and Hydrographic Agency were asking again for our piece. It might not lead to the usual referencing and h-index boosting that scientist usually look for; but knowing that your work is being used on these arenas gives a gratifying feeling. In fact, when I received those emails, I was on holiday with no access to my computer. People were happy to receive my reply saying that the pdf was available on the journal website thanks to the open access option.

The special issue has other very interesting papers on regime shifts. I haven’t read them all (I was on holiday!) but I can recommend the piece by Vasilis Dakos et al where they reflect on the prospects and limitations of early warning signals of regime shifts. Jean-Baptiste Jouffray and collaborators offer a strong empirical evidence of regime shifts in Hawaiian coral reefs, a timely response to those who don’t believe on regime shifts and have shown data without bimodality [Bruno et al 2009 in Ecology]. JB combines a battery of statistics to demonstrate that coral reefs do have alternative states. His team elegantly combine principal component analysis and bootstrapped regression trees to show which variables better characterise the alternative states. On cascading effects, Beaugrand et al and Fisher et al provide a vividly discussion on the likelihood of synchronised regime shifts. While the former shows empirical evidence of quasi-synchrony in the northern hemisphere driven by temperature and atmospheric pressure patterns; the later discusses how spatial heterogeneity in environmental characteristics may diminish the tendency of these teleconnections. Other papers on my to-read-list include the paper by Ling et al where they analyse kelp transitions to urchin barrens globally, while Gårdmark et al and Pershing et al address regime shifts in food webs. The issue closes with 4 more papers focused on the topic of management, including a piece by Henrik Österblom and Carl Folke where they show how the rise and the fall of the soviet union coincide with the global expansion of industrial fisheries, bringing into the table another important matter when studying regime shifts: understanding major social-ecological context, political and economic tensions, and power dynamics.

I leave you for now with a video from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies where Scott Ling explain his work on kelps transitions to urchin barrens. If you’re curious about the special issue here is the link to the table of contents. I encourage you to read all that interesting work, but if you don’t know where to start I suggest to start with the open access ones.





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