As the configuration of global environmental governance has become more complex over the past fifty years, numerous scholars have underscored the importance of understanding the transnational networks of public, private and nonprofit organizations that comprise it. Most methodologies for studying governance emphasize social structural elements or institutional design principles and focus less attention on the social interactions that generate diffuse, hybrid regimes. Yet capturing the dynamics of these networks requires a relational methodology that can account for a range of elements that constantly shift and change relative to overlapping institutional boundaries. Collaborative Event Ethnography draws on insights from multi-sited, team, and institutional ethnography to assemble teams of researchers to study major international conferences, which offer important political spaces where public, private, and nonprofit actors align around sanctioned logics and techniques of governance. Drawing on insights generated from these conferences and field sites across the globe, we trace the constitutive forces behind paradigm shifts in biodiversity conservation, specifically the interconnected rise of market-based approaches, global targets, and new conservation enclosures. We show how the iterative refining of the methodology over five events generated an increasingly robust understanding of global conservation governance as processual, dynamic, and contingent, constituted through constantly shifting assemblages of state and nonstate actors, devices and narratives that collectively configure fields of governance. Finally, we reflect on how our team, as an evolving combination of researchers, research interests, and data collection tools—itself an assemblage, —has informed the continual refinement of the methodology and generated novel understandings of global conservation governance.
Conservation Targets & Planning
Mangrove forests provide critical services around the globe to both human populations and the ecosystems they occupy. However, losses of mangrove habitat of more than 50% have been recorded in some parts of the world, and these losses are largely attributable to human activities. The importance of mangroves and the threats to their persistence have long been recognized, leading to actions taken locally, by national governments, and through international agreements for their protection. In this review, we explore the status of mangrove forests as well as efforts to protect them. We examine threats to the persistence of mangroves, consequences, and potential solutions for effective conservation. We present case studies from disparate regions of the world, showing that the integration of human livelihood needs in a manner that balances conservation goals can present solutions that could lead to long-term sustainability of mangrove forests throughout the world.
The coastal zone of China contains extensive coastal wetlands but it is also one of the most densely populated areas. Rapid changes of land use pattern associated with socio-economic development in the coastal zone have had tremendous impacts on the health of coastal wetlands and their provision of ecological services. In this study, we used a landscape development intensity index and landscape stress index to evaluate the conservation efficacy of the coastal zone and coastal protected areas along the coastline of China from 1990 to 2015. We then analyzed the impact of population density and gross domestic product (GDP) on landscape development intensity. The results showed that landscape development intensity in coastal zone increased over the 25 year period, but the growth rate of landscape development intensity and landscape stress slowed between 2005 and 2015. Higher levels of landscape development intensity were widespread in the coastal zone of northern China compared with southern China, and the coastal zones of the Huanghai Sea and the Bohai Sea were the focus of coastal wetlands conservation in mainland China. A number of coastal protected areas, including 33 coastal national nature reserves and 67 national special marine reserves, have been established in mainland China, protecting 16.80% of the coastline. Coastal wetlands have been effectively protected to some extent by building these protected areas, with results showing lower landscape development intensity. The conservation efficacy of coastal wetlands as a whole was affected by population expansion and GDP, but the effects were not necessarily all negative. A higher population density or GDP did not necessarily lead to stronger landscape development intensity in local areas.
Sharks constitute a vital sector of marine and estuarine nekton and are of great commercial importance all over the world. International concern over the fate of shark fisheries has grown recently. However, information concerning the species diversity, geographic distribution and life histories of sharks in the Indo-Pacific region is highly limited. Comprehensive research on the species composition, distribution and seasonal occurrence of sharks in the southern South China Sea (SSCS) was conducted for four years. A total of 4742 sharks belonging to 10 families and 28 species were recorded from 6 fishing ports in SSCS. The families recorded included Squalidae, Heterodontidae, Orectolobidae, Hemiscylliidae, Alopiidae, Scyliorhinidae, Triakidae, Hemigaleidae, Carcharhinidae and Sphyrnidae. Seventeen of 28 shark species were landed at various developmental stages from in the ranges of or even less than the length at birth and from newborn juveniles to fully-mature. The results suggest that these sharks were born just before fishing and landing, and reproductive-stage sharks were also fished and landed. In total, 15 species, four species and one species in 28 shark species were categorized as Near Threatened, Vulnerable and Endangered species, respectively, on the IUCN Red List. Sharks are not targeted by fisheries practices in the SSCS, but are caught as bycatch throughout the year in various developmental stages. Thus, current fisheries practices in the SSCS area might lead to further decline to critical levels and lead to extinction of some of species in the future. These results suggest that the need for gear selectivity of the commercial fishing gears in order to reduce mortality and to conserve shark stocks.
Identifying critical aggregation sites and behavioral patterns of imperiled species contributes to filling knowledge gaps essential for their conservation. Manta rays present a prominent example of such species, the populations of which are declining globally due to directed fishery, by-catch, and other anthropogenic stressors. Our goal was to explore manta ray aggregation sites in the Philippines in order to determine the factors governing the mantas’ visits – a knowledge gap essential to understand manta ecology, facilitate ecosystem-based fishery management, and promote sustainable manta-based ecotourism. Diving surveys, environmental conditions assessment, and autonomous cameras were employed to study manta behavior and visit patterns to a cleaning station cluster on a commonly fished seamount, visited by both Mobula birostris and Mobula alfredi. Our findings reveal several environmental conditions (e.g., sea state, moon illumination, and flow) that serve as predictors of manta presence/absence at the site. We suggest that these conditions affect both the behavior of the manta’s food (i.e., the spatial distribution of plankton) and the cleaning effectiveness of the cleaner wrasse, which consequently influence manta activity. The findings suggest a trade-off between cleaning and foraging: i.e., mantas tend to visit the cleaning stations when environmental conditions are less favorable for foraging but suitable for effective cleaning; while being absent from the cleaning stations when environmental conditions form plankton aggregations, ideal for efficient feeding. This study sheds light on manta behavior and habitat use on dynamic, small spatio-temporal scales (i.e., hundreds of meters to a few kilometers, hours to days). The acquired data may be applied in the planning of marine protected areas and in fishery management (e.g., to reduce the chances of manta bycatch by limiting fishing activities to periods of manta absence) as well as contribute to enhancing sustainable exploitation, such as ecotourism, by increasing the chances of diving encounters with manta rays.
Animals are central to numerous ecological processes that shape the structure and function of ecosystems. It follows that species that are strongly linked to specific functions can represent these functions spatially and hence be useful in conservation planning. Here we test this notion of ‘functional species surrogacy’ for the conservation of seagrass meadows that have been impacted by stressors. We measured algal herbivory and herbivorous fish assemblages across a range of seagrass meadows in the Moreton Bay Marine Park, Queensland, Australia. We determined the suitability of herbivorous fish to act as a surrogate for the function of algal herbivory and modelled the abundance of this surrogate, and thus herbivory, in seagrass meadows to compare the spatial distribution of this function within existing reserves. We used underwater video systems to determine the abundance of all herbivorous fish species in seagrass meadows. The abundance of the dusky rabbitfish (Siganus fuscescens) was the best predictor of algal herbivory in seagrass meadows, supporting the suitability of this species as a functional surrogate. The distribution of dusky rabbitfish, and therefore the ecological function of herbivory, was not well represented in the Moreton Bay Marine Park protected areas. Only 7% of the equivalent area of seagrass meadows protected in marine reserves were found to have high abundances of dusky rabbitfish. We demonstrate that the abundance of functionally important herbivores can be suitable as a surrogate for herbivory in seagrass conservation. Our findings show that data on the spatial distribution of ecological functions can alter priorities for reserve design, and we suggest that our functional approach to species surrogacy is likely to improve conservation performance in seagrass ecosystems.
Identifying the species that are at risk of local extinction in highly diverse ecosystems is a big challenge for conservation science. Assessments of species status are costly and difficult to implement in developing countries with diverse ecosystems due to a lack of species-specific surveys, species-specific data, and other resources. Numerous techniques are devised to determine the threat status of species based on the availability of data and budgetary limits. On this basis, we developed a framework that compared occurrence data of historically exploited reef species in Kenya from existing disparate data sources. Occurrence data from archaeological remains (750-1500CE) was compared with occurrence data of these species catch assessments, and underwater surveys (1991-2014CE). This comparison indicated that only 67 species were exploited over a 750 year period, 750-1500CE, whereas 185 species were landed between 1995 and 2014CE. The first step of our framework identified 23 reef species as threatened with local extinction. The second step of the framework further evaluated the possibility of local extinction with Bayesian extinction analyses using occurrence data from naturalists’ species list with the existing occurrence data sources. The Bayesian extinction analysis reduced the number of reef species threatened with local extinction from 23 to 15. We compared our findings with three methods used for assessing extinction risk. Commonly used extinction risk methods varied in their ability to identify reef species that we identified as threatened with local extinction by our comparative and Bayesian method. For example, 12 of the 15 threatened species that we identified using our framework were listed as either least concern, unevaluated, or data deficient in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature red list. Piscivores and macro-invertivores were the only functional groups found to be locally extinct. Comparing occurrence data from disparate sources revealed a large number of historically exploited reef species that are possibly locally extinct. Our framework addressed biases such as uncertainty in priors, sightings and survey effort, when estimating the probability of local extinction. Our inexpensive method showed the value and potential for disparate data to fill knowledge gaps that exist in species extinction assessments.
Freshwater biodiversity is declining, despite national and international efforts to manage and protect freshwater ecosystems. Ecosystem-based management (EBM) has been proposed as an approach that could more efficiently and adaptively balance ecological and societal needs. However, this raises the question of how social and ecological objectives can be included in an integrated management plan. Here, we present a generic model-coupling framework tailored to address this question for freshwater ecosystems, using three components: biodiversity, ecosystem services (ESS), and a spatial prioritisation that aims to balance the spatial representation of biodiversity and ESS supply and demand. We illustrate this model-coupling approach within the Danube River Basin using the spatially explicit, potential distribution of (i) 85 fish species as a surrogate for biodiversity as modelled using hierarchical Bayesian models, and (ii) four estimated ESS layers produced by the Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services (ARIES) platform (with ESS supply defined as carbon storage and flood regulation, and demand specified as recreation and water use). These are then used for (iii) a joint spatial prioritisation of biodiversity and ESS employing Marxan with Zones, laying out the spatial representation of multiple management zones. Given the transboundary setting of the Danube River Basin, we also run comparative analyses including the country-level purchasing power parity (PPP)-adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) and each country's percent cover of the total basin area as potential cost factors, illustrating a scheme for balancing the share of establishing specific zones among countries. We demonstrate how emphasizing various biodiversity or ESS targets in an EBM model-coupling framework can be used to cost-effectively test various spatially explicit management options across a multi-national case study. We further discuss possible limitations, future developments, and requirements for effectively managing a balance between biodiversity and ESS supply and demand in freshwater ecosystems.
Instantaneous implementation of systematic conservation plans at regional scales is rare. More typically, planned actions are applied incrementally over periods of years or decades. During protracted implementation, the character of the connected ecological system will change as a function of external anthropogenic pressures, local metapopulation processes, and environmental fluctuations. For heavily exploited systems, habitat quality will deteriorate as the plan is implemented, potentially influencing the schedule of protected area implementation necessary to achieve conservation objectives. Understanding the best strategy to adopt for applying management within a connected environment is desirable, especially given limited conservation resources. Here, we model the sequential application of no‐take marine protected areas (MPAs) in the central Philippines within a metapopulation framework, using a range of network‐based decision rules. The model was based on selecting 33 sites for protection from 101 possible sites over a 35‐yr period. The graph‐theoretic network criteria to select sites for protection included PageRank, maximum degree, closeness centrality, betweenness centrality, minimum degree, random, and historical events. We also included a dynamic strategy called colonization–extinction rate that was updated every year based on the changing capacity of each site to produce and absorb larvae. Each rule was evaluated in the context of achieving the maximum metapopulation mean lifetime at the conclusion of the implementation phase. MPAs were designated through the alteration of the extinction risk parameter. The highest ranked criteria were PageRank while the actual implementation from historical records ranked lowest. Our results indicate that protecting the sites ranked highest with regard to larval supply is likely to yield the highest benefit for fish abundance and fish metapopulation persistence. Model results highlighted the benefits of including network processes in conservation planning.
As a response to increasing human pressures on marine ecosystems, the legislation aimed at improving the conservation and management of marine coastal areas in European and Contiguous Seas (ECS) underwent crucial advances. ECS, however, still remain largely affected by increasing threats leading to biodiversity loss. Here, by using emblematic case studies and expert knowledge, we review current conservation tools, comparing their application in different areas to assess their effectiveness, potential for synergies, and contradictions. Despite regional differences in their application, the existing legislative frameworks have the potential to regulate human activities and to protect marine biodiversity. However, four challenges remain to be addressed to fully achieve environmental policy goals: (1) Lack of shared vision representing a limitation in transboundary collaboration. Although all EU countries are committed to fulfil EU Directives and other binding international legislative acts, a remarkable heterogeneity exists among countries in the compliance with the common legislation on conservation and in their degree of implementation. (2) Lack of systematic procedures for the selection of protected marine sites. Regional and national approaches in designating Natura 2000 sites and nationally designated marine protected areas (MPAs) reflect varying conservation targets and importance of conservation issues in political agendas. (3) Lack of coherent ecological networks. Natura 2000 sites and other MPAs are still far from reaching the status of effective networks in all considered case studies. (4) Hotspot of conflicts with private economic interests prevailing over conservation aims. Recommendations are given to overcome the fragmented approach still characterizing the conservation and management of coastal marine environments. Holistic, integrated, ecosystem-based, cross-cutting approaches can avoid conflicts among institutions so as to provide effective and timely solutions to current and future challenges concerning the conservation and management of marine ecosystems and associated goods and services.