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Economic value of ecological information in ecosystem-based natural resource management depends on exploitation history

Timothy E. Essington, James N. Sanchirico, Marissa L. Baskett

Significance. Natural resource management is evolving toward a more holistic approach that acknowledges ecological connections among species. To date, there has been no demonstration of where or when this approach provides economic benefits. Here we find only modest economic benefits from having detailed knowledge of ecological linkages between species. However, the costs of incomplete or incorrect knowledge are unevenly distributed across user groups and are greater after historical overfishing. The ecosystem approach to natural resource management might therefore provide the greatest benefit by defining safe zones where management is robust to our limited understanding of ecological systems.

Abstract. Ecosystem approaches to natural resource management are seen as a way to provide better outcomes for ecosystems and for people, yet the nature and strength of interactions among ecosystem components is usually unknown. Here we characterize the economic benefits of ecological knowledge through a simple model of fisheries that target a predator (piscivore) and its prey. We solve for the management (harvest) trajectory that maximizes net present value (NPV) for different ecological interactions and initial conditions that represent different levels of exploitation history. Optimal management trajectories generally approached similar harvest levels, but the pathways toward those levels varied considerably by ecological scenario. Application of the wrong harvest trajectory, which would happen if one type of ecological interaction were assumed but in fact another were occurring, generally led to only modest reductions in NPV. However, the risks were not equal across fleets: risks of incurring large losses of NPV and missing management targets were much higher in the fishery targeting piscivores, especially when piscivores were heavily depleted. Our findings suggest that the ecosystem approach might provide the greatest benefits when used to identify system states where management performs poorly with imperfect knowledge of system linkages so that management strategies can be adopted to avoid those states.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 115, No. 7. (13 February 2018), pp. 1658-1663, 
Key: INRMM:14535034



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