Energy is required to maintain physiological homeostasis in response to environmental change. Although responses to environmental stressors frequently are assumed to involve high metabolic costs, the biochemical bases of actual energy demands are rarely quantified. We studied the impact of a near-future scenario of ocean acidification [800 µatm partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2)] during the development and growth of an important model organism in developmental and environmental biology, the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Size, metabolic rate, biochemical content, and gene expression were not different in larvae growing under control and seawater acidification treatments. Measurements limited to those levels of biological analysis did not reveal the biochemical mechanisms of response to ocean acidification that occurred at the cellular level. In vivo rates of protein synthesis and ion transport increased ∼50% under acidification. Importantly, the in vivo physiological increases in ion transport were not predicted from total enzyme activity or gene expression. Under acidification, the increased rates of protein synthesis and ion transport that were sustained in growing larvae collectively accounted for the majority of available ATP (84%). In contrast, embryos and prefeeding and unfed larvae in control treatments allocated on average only 40% of ATP to these same two processes. Understanding the biochemical strategies for accommodating increases in metabolic energy demand and their biological limitations can serve as a quantitative basis for assessing sublethal effects of global change. Variation in the ability to allocate ATP differentially among essential functions may be a key basis of resilience to ocean acidification and other compounding environmental stressors.
Significant climate risks are associated with a positive carbon–temperature feedback in northern latitude carbon-rich ecosystems, making an accurate analysis of human impacts on the net greenhouse gas balance of wetlands a priority. Here, we provide a coherent assessment of the climate footprint of a network of wetland sites based on simultaneous and quasi-continuous ecosystem observations of CO2 and CH4 fluxes. Experimental areas are located both in natural and in managed wetlands and cover a wide range of climatic regions, ecosystem types, and management practices. Based on direct observations we predict that sustained CH4 emissions in natural ecosystems are in the long term (i.e., several centuries) typically offset by CO2 uptake, although with large spatiotemporal variability. Using a space-for-time analogy across ecological and climatic gradients, we represent the chronosequence from natural to managed conditions to quantify the “cost” of CH4 emissions for the benefit of net carbon sequestration. With a sustained pulse–response radiative forcing model, we found a significant increase in atmospheric forcing due to land management, in particular for wetland converted to cropland. Our results quantify the role of human activities on the climate footprint of northern wetlands and call for development of active mitigation strategies for managed wetlands and new guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) accounting for both sustained CH4 emissions and cumulative CO2 exchange.
Understanding marine regime shifts is important not only for ecology but also for developing marine management that assures the provision of ecosystem services to humanity. While regime shift theory is well developed, there is still no common understanding on drivers, mechanisms and characteristic of abrupt changes in real marine ecosystems. Based on contributions to the present theme issue, we highlight some general issues that need to be overcome for developing a more comprehensive understanding of marine ecosystem regime shifts. We find a great divide between benthic reef and pelagic ocean systems in how regime shift theory is linked to observed abrupt changes. Furthermore, we suggest that the long-lasting discussion on the prevalence of top-down trophic or bottom-up physical drivers in inducing regime shifts may be overcome by taking into consideration the synergistic interactions of multiple stressors, and the special characteristics of different ecosystem types. We present a framework for the holistic investigation of marine regime shifts that considers multiple exogenous drivers that interact with endogenous mechanisms to cause abrupt, catastrophic change. This framework takes into account the time-delayed synergies of these stressors, which erode the resilience of the ecosystem and eventually enable the crossing of ecological thresholds. Finally, considering that increased pressures in the marine environment are predicted by the current climate change assessments, in order to avoid major losses of ecosystem services, we suggest that marine management approaches should incorporate knowledge on environmental thresholds and develop tools that consider regime shift dynamics and characteristics. This grand challenge can only be achieved through a holistic view of marine ecosystem dynamics as evidenced by this theme issue.
Regime shifts have been observed in marine ecosystems around the world, with climate and fishing suggested as major drivers of such shifts. The global and regional dynamics of the climate system have been studied in this context, and efforts to develop an analogous understanding of fishing activities are developing. Here, we investigate the timing of pelagic marine regime shifts in relation to the emergence of regional and global fishing activities of the Soviet Union. Our investigation of official catch statistics reflects that the Soviet Union was a major fishing actor in all large marine ecosystems where regime shifts have been documented, including in ecosystems where overfishing has been established as a key driver of these changes (in the Baltic and Black Seas and the Scotian Shelf). Globalization of Soviet Union fishing activities pushed exploitation to radically new levels and triggered regional and global governance responses for improved management. Since then, exploitation levels have remained and increased with new actors involved. Based on our exploratory work, we propose that a deeper understanding of the role of global fishing actors is central for improved management of marine ecosystems.
Three decades of study have revealed dozens of examples in which natural systems have crossed biophysical thresholds (‘tipping points’)—nonlinear changes in ecosystem structure and function—as a result of human-induced stressors, dramatically altering ecosystem function and services. Environmental management that avoids such thresholds could prevent severe social, economic and environmental impacts. Here, we review management measures implemented in ecological systems that have thresholds. Using Ostrom's social–ecological systems framework, we analysed key biophysical and institutional factors associated with 51 social–ecological systems and associated management regimes, and related these to management success defined by ecological outcomes. We categorized cases as instances of prospective or retrospective management, based upon whether management aimed to avoid a threshold or to restore systems that have crossed a threshold. We find that smaller systems are more amenable to threshold-based management, that routine monitoring is associated with successful avoidance of thresholds and recovery after thresholds have been crossed, and that success is associated with the explicit threshold-based management. These findings are powerful evidence for the policy relevance of information on ecological thresholds across a wide range of ecosystems.
For many years, fisheries management was based on optimizing yield and maintaining a target biomass, with little regard given to low-frequency environmental forcing. However, this policy was often unsuccessful. In the last two to three decades, fisheries science and management have undergone a shift towards balancing sustainable yield with conservation, with the goal of including ecosystem considerations in decision-making frameworks. Scientific understanding of low-frequency climate–ocean variability, which is manifested as ecosystem regime shifts and states, has led to attempts to incorporate these shifts and states into fisheries assessment and management. To date, operationalizing these attempts to provide tactical advice has met with limited success. We review efforts to incorporate regime shifts and states into the assessment and management of fisheries resources, propose directions for future investigation and outline a potential framework to include regime shifts and changes in ecosystem states into fisheries management.
Regime shifts have been observed in marine ecosystems around the globe. These phenomena can result in dramatic changes in the provision of ecosystem services to coastal communities. Accounting for regime shifts in management clearly requires integrative, ecosystem-based management (EBM) approaches. EBM has emerged as an accepted paradigm for ocean management worldwide, yet, despite the rapid and intense development of EBM theory, implementation has languished, and many implemented or proposed EBM schemes largely ignore the special characteristics of regime shifts. Here, we first explore key aspects of regime shifts that are of critical importance to EBM, and then suggest how regime shifts can be better incorporated into EBM using the concept of integrated ecosystem assessment (IEA). An IEA uses approaches that determine the likelihood that ecological or socio-economic properties of systems will move beyond or return to acceptable bounds as defined by resource managers and policy makers. We suggest an approach for implementing IEAs for cases of regime shifts where the objectives are either avoiding an undesired state or returning to a desired condition. We discuss the suitability and short-comings of methods summarizing the status of ecosystem components, screening and prioritizing potential risks, and evaluating alternative management strategies. IEAs are evolving as an EBM approach that can address regime shifts; however, advances in statistical, analytical and simulation modelling are needed before IEAs can robustly inform tactical management in systems characterized by regime shifts.
Among the responses of marine species and their ecosystems to climate change, abrupt community shifts (ACSs), also called regime shifts, have often been observed. However, despite their effects for ecosystem functioning and both provisioning and regulating services, our understanding of the underlying mechanisms involved remains elusive. This paper proposes a theory showing that some ACSs originate from the interaction between climate-induced environmental changes and the species ecological niche. The theory predicts that a substantial stepwise shift in the thermal regime of a marine ecosystem leads indubitably to an ACS and explains why some species do not change during the phenomenon. It also explicates why the timing of ACSs may differ or why some studies may detect or not detect a shift in the same ecosystem, independently of the statistical method of detection and simply because they focus on different species or taxonomic groups. The present theory offers a way to predict future climate-induced community shifts and their potential associated trophic cascades and amplifications.
Many marine ecosystems have undergone ‘regime shifts’, i.e. abrupt reorganizations across trophic levels. Establishing whether these constitute shifts between alternative stable states is of key importance for the prospects of ecosystem recovery and for management. We show how mechanisms underlying alternative stable states caused by predator–prey interactions can be revealed in field data, using analyses guided by theory on size-structured community dynamics. This is done by combining data on individual performance (such as growth and fecundity) with information on population size and prey availability. We use Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and their prey in the Baltic Sea as an example to discuss and distinguish two types of mechanisms, ‘cultivation-depensation’ and ‘overcompensation’, that can cause alternative stable states preventing the recovery of overexploited piscivorous fish populations. Importantly, the type of mechanism can be inferred already from changes in the predators' body growth in different life stages. Our approach can thus be readily applied to monitored stocks of piscivorous fish species, for which this information often can be assembled. Using this tool can help resolve the causes of catastrophic collapses in marine predatory–prey systems and guide fisheries managers on how to successfully restore collapsed piscivorous fish stocks.
In the vicinity of tipping points—or more precisely bifurcation points—ecosystems recover slowly from small perturbations. Such slowness may be interpreted as a sign of low resilience in the sense that the ecosystem could easily be tipped through a critical transition into a contrasting state. Indicators of this phenomenon of ‘critical slowing down (CSD)’ include a rise in temporal correlation and variance. Such indicators of CSD can provide an early warning signal of a nearby tipping point. Or, they may offer a possibility to rank reefs, lakes or other ecosystems according to their resilience. The fact that CSD may happen across a wide range of complex ecosystems close to tipping points implies a powerful generality. However, indicators of CSD are not manifested in all cases where regime shifts occur. This is because not all regime shifts are associated with tipping points. Here, we review the exploding literature about this issue to provide guidance on what to expect and what not to expect when it comes to the CSD-based early warning signals for critical transitions.