Feb. 23, 2008 Brown University marine conservation scientist Heather Leslie has explained how the fast-growing field of resilience science can produce more effective ocean protection policies at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.*
Resilience science is the study of how ecosystems resist and respond to disturbances, both natural and man-made. This increasingly influential area of environmental science is affecting marine conservation efforts from the Gulf of Maine to the Great Barrier Reef.
Ocean ecosystems are increasingly threatened by overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, climate change and coastal development. Understanding why some ecosystems resist these shocks, and continue to deliver benefits such as plentiful fish and pristine beaches, and how others collapse is the subject of resilience science -- a budding branch of study that combines approaches from both the life and social sciences.
"Resilience science examines how human and natural forces come together to affect an ecosystem's ability to resist, recover or adapt to disturbances," Leslie said. "That knowledge can be directly applied to conservation policies -- policies that can better protect the oceans."
Key elements of resilience science include the recognition of the connections between marine systems and human communities, the maintenance of diversity in marine ecosystems and economies, and the importance of monitoring of the dynamic ecological processes, such as the rate of plankton production in the upper ocean, that create large-scale ecological patterns.
Conservation policies based on resilience science are showing promise around the world and across the United States, most notably in the Chesapeake Bay. Restoration of the Bay is underway -- evidenced by oyster sanctuaries and eelgrass seeding -- to restore lost diversity and increase future resilience.
"Viewing the world through a resilience lens means embracing change and acknowledging the tight connections between humans and nature," Leslie said. "The way forward will require embracing change at many levels -- in societal expectations, in business practices, in resource management -- to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Resilience science can show the way for-ward, creating more robust marine ecosystems and thriving human communities."
*Heather Leslie, Sharpe Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology at Brown University, presented the symposium "Embracing Change: A New Vision for Management in Coastal Marine Ecosystems" on Feb. 17, 2008.
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