Implementing an ecosystem approach: predicting and safeguarding marine biodiversity futures

Alison R. Holt, Caroline Hattam, Stephen Mangi,

Anton Edwards, and Scot Mathieson


Evidence of the links between marine biodiversity and ecosystem function, as highlighted in previous chapters, indicates that the loss of biodiversity is likely to have serious consequences for human wellbeing (Diaz et al. 2006). Humans derive a variety of important goods and services from marine systems (see Covich et al. 2004; MA 2005), for instance, the provision of food to millions (Worm et al. 2006), and the protection of coastal populations from flooding (Adger et al. 2005). The underlying causes of marine degradation stem from the unsustainable use of marine resources; for example, over-fishing, and other activities that may directly or indirectly destroy habitat, pollute, warm, and acidify the ocean (Dulvy et al. 2003; Royal Society 2005; Lotze et al. 2006). Maintaining human well-being into the future requires finding ways of sustaining ecosystems that are resilient to change, and have the ability to continue to provide important services (Levin and Lubchenco 2008). It means rethinking the way that natural resources are managed, taking a whole- ecosystem perspective, understanding the interactions between the human and ecological systems, and employing sophisticated and intelligent monitoring, management, and governance practices.

In the first section of this chapter, we discuss the emergence of what has been termed the 'ecosystem approach' to environmental management, central to which is the concept of ecosystem services. In the second, we show the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem function research in implementing an ecosystem approach to marine management. We outline the perspectives, approaches, and evidence that are required to provide a base for marine biodiversity valuation and decision-making, highlighting the gaps in knowledge. In the third, we link ecology and economics to focus on the importance of an economic perspective and outline tools that can be used to value the social benefits arising from ecosystem services and biodiversity. This has become a popular area of investigation across aquatic and terrestrial systems, in an attempt to bring environmental values into decision-making and to create societal understanding of the value of nature in providing ecosystem services (Daily et al.

2009) . In the fourth section, we suggest a general framework for the application of the ecosystem approach that integrates ecological and socio-economic knowledge and approaches to achieve suitable monitoring, management , and governance, to ensure sustainable biodiversity futures and human well-being. We conclude with a discussion of the future challenges of integrating across disciplines, science, and policy to achieve the implementation of an ecosystem approach.

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