• Academic publication

Using ecosystem response footprints to guide environmental management priorities

Low J, Gladstone-Gallagher R, Hewitt J, Pilditch C, Ellis J & Thrush S (August 2023)

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Managing cumulative effects in coastal marine ecosystems and predicting outcomes of mitigation or restorative actions represents a major challenge globally for scientist and decision makers. Cumulative effects are caused by individually minor but collectively significant activities. Each activity and the associated stressors generate distinct footprints.

However, activity and stressor footprints do not necessarily inform ecosystem responses, which often occupy different space and time scales. Understanding how ecosystems respond to cumulative effects is important to avoid ecological surprises and irreversible ecosystem damage. Current tools for assessing cumulative effects can overlook important aspects of ecosystem responses in space and time.

Our new framework lays out a series of ecological characteristics of responses that can be used to conceptualise ‘ecological response footprints’. We use these characteristics to define the extent and depth of ecosystem response and link these attributes to suitable actions for generating ecological recovery and resilience. Reframing the focus on ecosystem response footprints can help inform holistic ecosystem-based approaches to managing cumulative effects and the marine environment.