Government policy and land managers are turning more toward ecosystem-based management rather than traditional single-species techniques of conservation. This new approach is designed to conserve habitats and the services that they provide to humans by conserving entire ecosystems.
When dealing with coastal ecosystem management, the balance between coastal mangroves and other coastal activities such as shrimp farming often provides direct conflict. The assumption is that any loss of mangrove coverage will leave the coast unprotected from storm surge and will increase erosion and pollution. The balance between mangrove benefits and other coastal land uses is often seen as an “all or none” choice.
A paper in today’s issue of Science titled, “Coastal Ecosystem-Based Management with Nonlinear Ecological Functions and Values,” takes on the issue of “all or none” choices, and asserts that the balance is not as linear as previously thought. These researchers have concluded that the size of mangrove forests or sea grass or other natural amenity isn’t directly proportional to its benefit.
“Ecologists have long understood that species reach thresholds at which their environmental benefits to humans are greatest, and saturation points at which those benefits trail off. In other words, the relationship between the amount of services provided by an ecosystem and the area of that ecosystem is not a straight line”
The researchers have created a model that assigns dollar values to the protective power of natural amenities in order to contrast this with the economic benefits of development. This approach advocates a balancing act where farmers remove some mangroves for shrimp farming, but leave intact enough mangroves to protect the shoreline.
This research was conducted in part by the National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, which is located at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This center employs an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving with working groups that collaborate on research in ecology and allied disciplines.