Lenfest Ocean Program

Supporting Science and Communicating Results

Research Project

Benchmarks for Ecosystem Assessment

A critical component of operationalizing ecosystem-based fisheries management is understanding when a marine ecosystem is compromised, such as exhibited by reduced resilience, diminished productivity and disrupted species relationships. Fortunately, by examining physical and biological indicators, scientists can identify when an ecosystem is stressed or damaged. Furthermore, they can deduce whether the situation is caused by humans or nature, such as an El Nino event. Many management programs have set goals to maintain an ecosystem’s “structure and function”. The United Nations has actively encouraged the rapid adoption of such policies worldwide.

Principal investigators Beth Fulton, Ph.D., and Keith Sainsbury, Ph.D., will work with a research team to examine specific, science-based indicators of ecosystem structure and function and develop references points or ranges for a variety of ecosystem types. These metrics will provide managers with specific threshold numbers to evaluate whether human activity is compromising specific aspects of an ecosystem. If indicators fall outside the calculated acceptable ranges, then managers will flag the problem. A policy advisory body working concurrently with the research team will provide guidance on how best to operationalize the findings into real-world management and ensure the indicators can be adopted into existing fisheries management programs.

Media Contact

Elizabeth Striano

Officer, Communications