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Brown expert connects resilience science and marine conservation

Brown University marine conservation scientist Heather Leslie will explain 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 (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.

Resilience science is the study of how ecosystems resist and respond to disturbances, both natu-ral 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.

At the meeting, held in Boston, Leslie will explain resilience science and its impact in a Feb. 17, 2008 symposium titled “Embracing Change: A New Vision for Management in Coastal Marine Ecosystems.” The symposium runs from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. in Room 313 of the Hynes Conven-tion Center. Leslie will also attend a Feb. 14, 2008 press briefing on the topic of marine ecosys-tem threats. The briefing kicks off at 1 p.m. in Room 112 of the Hynes Convention Center.

The Sharpe Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology at Brown, Leslie will dis-cuss at the symposium how ocean ecosystems are increasingly threatened by overfishing, pollu-tion, 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 ecosys-tem’s ability to resist, recover or adapt to disturbances,” Leslie said. “That knowledge can be di-rectly applied to conservation policies – policies that can better protect the oceans.”

At the AAAS symposium, Leslie will explain key elements of resilience science. These include the recognition of the connections between marine systems and human communities, the mainte-nance 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.

Leslie will also discuss how conservation policies based on resilience science are showing prom-ise around the world and across the United States, most notably in the Chesapeake Bay. Restora-tion 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 em-bracing change at many levels — in societal expectations, in business practices, in resource man-agement — to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Resilience science can show the way for-ward, creating more robust marine ecosystems and thriving human communities.”

Wendy Lawton | EurekAlert!
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