Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Human rules may determine environmental 'tipping points'

18.04.2011
A new paper appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests that people, governments, and institutions that shape the way people interact may be just as important for determining environmental conditions as the environmental processes themselves.

"Tipping points," qualitative changes in an ecosystem that often result in reduced ecosystem health and are difficult and costly to reverse increasingly concern environmental scientists.

The prevailing assumption among scientists has been that tipping points are fixed values. However, a unique research collaboration involving a team of biologists and economists that included University of Notre Dame ecologist David Lodge, Michigan State University economist Richard Horan, Arizona State University economist Eli Fenichel and Bethel College biologist Kevin Drury, indicates that these tipping points are not fixed in human-impacted ecological systems and depend, instead, on human responses to a changing environment.

The authors point out many instances of tipping points that resulted in catastrophic changes in ecosystems, such as climate change, collapsed freshwater and marine fisheries and changes wrought by invasive species. For example, the invasive species sea lamprey changed the Great Lakes from an environment productive of lake trout and whitefish to a collapsed fishery. If not for the $17 million spent annually by the United States and Canada to control them, sea lamprey would continue to devastate Great Lakes fisheries.

In the research described in the PNAS paper, the researchers studied invasive rusty crayfish, which have transformed many Michigan and Wisconsin lakes from luxuriant underwater forests inhabited by many smaller animals that supported sport fish to clear-cut forests with diminished production of sport fish. This outcome occurred despite the fact that there are many fish like smallmouth bass that readily consume crayfish.

"Our work explored whether a shift from one lake condition with excellent habitat to another lake condition with barren lake bottom is the inevitable result of invasion by crayfish or whether it is just one possible outcome," Lodge said. "In other words, we asked whether we humans need to passively accept undesirable outcomes or whether, instead, the institutions and rules by which we make decisions can change the landscape of possibilities."

The institutional rules shape the relationship among managers, users, and ecological systems. If the system is mapped using only ecological characteristics, then managers may not account for human responses to change, such as changing decisions about whether or how much to fish as fishing quality changes.

The research results showed that tipping points in human-impacted ecosystems are affected by regulatory choices that influence human behavior.

"This gives us reason for optimism: if we give regulators sufficient flexibility it may be possible and cost-effective to manage ecological systems so that only desirable ecological outcomes arise and tipping points are eliminated," Horan said.

"Our results also create concern: if natural resource managers' policy choices are overly restricted, then it might be too difficult or costly to avoid tipping points," Fenichel added.

In particular, the researchers stress that their results highlight the importance of giving strong institutional support to regulatory agencies that aim to enhance societal wellbeing.

"Without strong institutional support, tipping points might disappear but not in a good way," Horan said. "Suppose lake managers invest in crayfish removal but do not properly alter the behavior of anglers, who overharvest fish. In such a scenario, crayfish removal may be ineffective at restoring the lake system if anglers continue to pull the ecosystem toward an undesirable state. Investing in crayfish removal without also addressing angler behaviors is therefore a waste of money. Why would we invest to protect the system from crayfish if we are unable or unwilling to protect the system from humans?"

Contacts: David Lodge, lodge.1@nd.edu, 574-631-6094; Richard Horan, horan@msu.edu, 517-355-1301; Eli Fenichel, eli.fenichel@asu.edu, 480-965-4027; Kevin Drury, kevindrury@bethelcollege.edu, 574-807-7095

Richard Horan | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.msu.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Bioinvasion on the rise
15.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz

nachricht Litter Levels in the Depths of the Arctic are On the Rise
10.02.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microhotplates for a smart gas sensor

22.02.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Scientists unlock ability to generate new sensory hair cells

22.02.2017 | Life Sciences

Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars

22.02.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>