Bad planning can cause irreversible changes

Ecosystem management requires extensive analysis

Photo: B. Christensen/Azote
Social planners must acquire as much knowledge as possible about the ecosystem resource before choosing strategies to manage it.  It may be crucial to know whether indirect effects of management on slowly changing elements, like corals, can trigger rapid transformation of the whole ecosystem. This is the conclusion from an article published in the journal Environmental & Resource Economics.

The article, entitled Using Fast and Slow Processes to Manage Resources with Thresholds is written by centre researcher Anne-Sophie Crépin and deals with management opportunities available in systems with tresholds, such as coral reefs.
 
-  Marginal changes in management methods can have huge effects on some ecosystems and on future management opportunities, Crépin says.
 
Her work shows how indirect effects of management on slow variables like the coral can amplify changes in the whole ecosystem. One of the most serious consequences can be rapid changes that cause so-called regime shifts that affect the services people derive from ecosystems and ultimately affect people´s well-being for a long time.
 
In ecosystems with thresholds, the best management path depends on previous actions, so, to avoid huge mistakes, decision makers may need to calculate all future costs and benefits of each alternative path. This requires much information about the future, so alternative strategies could be preferable. However, she acknowledges the Catch-22 situation of threshold detection, since a regime shift must usually be created in order to detect the threshold, which is often what social planners want to avoid.
 
Decisions based on extensive risk analysis
For a long time, poorly developed technology, high costs, and relatively low demand have restricted coral reef fisheries and not rendering it profitable on a large scale. Today, better technology, higher demand and lower costs have increased the fishing pressure on coral reefs so the risk that a regime shift  occurs is now higher .
 
-  In such a situation, it is risky to base management decisions on guidelines obtained with too simple models. Social planners should beware of a priori management solutions. Instead they should gather all information available and base their decisions on that. They should make sure that the models they use are appropriate to the problem, Crépin states.
 
She argues that it is particularly important to incorporate long term effects of management on slow processes in ecosystems with potential regime shifts. 
 
-  If management decisions imply that alternate states can be reached, planners should choose the best state given, based on the information available. In their decision they should also consider possible gains and losses from postponing the decision to gather more information, she says.

Source: Crépin, A-S., 2007, Using Fast and Slow Processes to Manage Resources with Thresholds, Environmental & Resource Economics (2007) 36:191—213  DOI 10.1007/s10640-006-9029-8

Reference

Citation

Crépin, A-S., 2007, Using Fast and Slow Processes to Manage Resources with Thresholds, Environmental & Resource Economics (2007) 36:191—213  DOI 10.1007/s10640-006-9029-8

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