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The Ocean Tipping Points collaborative launches new science-based guide, tools and resources to support management of a changing ocean

From the coral reefs of Hawaii to the kelp-strewn coasts of British Columbia, scientists and ocean managers have been working together for the past several years to understand ecosystem tipping points in an effort to learn how to prevent or reverse them. The Ocean Tipping Points team is excited to launch a new web portal of practical tools, resources and in-depth research to help marine managers and stakeholders predict, prevent or recover from dramatic ecosystem changes. (continued after video)

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In a new paper published June 1 in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, scientists argue that environmental managers must broaden their focus from routine ecological monitoring to include social and economic factors if we are to protect ecosystems before they cross undesired tipping points.

A fashion for otter fur in the 19th Century has given researchers insight into how social changes can be a warning for ecosystems on the brink of collapse. In a new paper published today in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, scientists argue that environmental managers need to broaden their focus from routine ecological monitoring to include social and economic factors if we are to protect ecosystems before it is too late.

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Part 5: Ecological Thresholds can Inform Resource Management

The Ocean Tipping Points project is a collaboration of natural and social scientists, lawyers, environmental managers, and stakeholders working to understand what drives abrupt ecological shifts, and how they might be prevented or reversed. This is the fourth blog in a series highlighting the latest research and insights from our team of researchers.

Non-linear threshold responses are common in ecological systems, driven by both natural and human-induced pressures on ecosystems. However, Incorporating ecological thresholds into management can be a daunting task. In many ecosystems we have limited ability to predict if a threshold exists, when and how rapidly it will be crossed, and if positive feedback loops that entrain the new state will develop.

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Part 4: Seven Principles for managing tipping points

The Ocean Tipping Points project is a collaboration of natural and social scientists, lawyers, environmental managers, and stakeholders working to understand what drives abrupt ecological shifts, and how they might be prevented or reversed. This is the fourth blog in a series highlighting the latest research and insights from our team of researchers.

Awareness is growing among scientists and environmental managers that human impacts can lead to dramatic, sometimes rapid, changes in the way that ecosystems look – for example, in the species and habitats that are dominant – and the way they work – such as how productive they are, how rapidly nutrients are cycled, or what benefits they provide to people.

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Part 3: Causes and consequences of tipped coral reef ecosystems in Hawai‘i

In our previous blog post, we described some of the key attributes of threshold-based management that have successfully prevented ecosystems from crossing tipping points or have helped restore previously tipped systems. In this blog, we present research from our case study region of Hawai‘i, where many coral reef ecosystems may be nearing critical tipping points, and others have already crossed thresholds into algae-dominated states. Our team of social and ecological researchers is working to highlight the main drivers of change in Hawai‘i’s reef ecosystems and provide marine managers with the information and tools necessary to maintain resilient reefs.

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Part 2: Measuring effective threshold-based environmental management

The Ocean Tipping Points project is a collaboration of natural and social scientists, lawyers, environmental managers, and stakeholders working to understand what drives abrupt ecological shifts, and how they might be prevented or reversed. This is the second blog in a series in which we share the latest research and insights from our team of researchers.

A little stress can go a long way

In nature, one plus one does not always equal two. Sometimes, small changes in human pressures or environmental conditions can result in disproportionately large responses in the ecosystem—potentially even collapse.

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The Ocean Tipping Points project is a collaboration of natural and social scientists, lawyers, environmental managers, and stakeholders working to understand what drives abrupt ecological shifts, and how they might be prevented or reversed. In this initial blog, we introduce the concept of tipping points and highlight our latest research. In upcoming blogs, some of our researchers will present their work in more detail and discuss the implications for our case study regions and for the science and management community more widely.

Reaching a tipping point

Sea otters were once a common sight in kelp forests along vast expanses of the west coast of North America, until fur traders decimated nearly every otter population in the 1800s.  Without otters, the kelp forests began to disappear. Sea urchin populations exploded in the absence of their main predators—otters—and started grazing down the kelp forests, creating a patchwork of ‘urchin barrens’ where kelp forests were once prolific. Without the complex habitat provided by kelp, numerous marine species, including commercially important fish, can lose their main source of food and shelter.

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