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The Ecosystem Approach Advanced User Guide


1. Introduction

Explanation
Appropriate spatial and temporal scales should be used to address the problem identified. The ecosystem approach can be applied to issues of any scale. The approach recommends the problem being addressed should set the scale of analysis and action. For example it could be applied to a pond, a forest, a global flyway or the whole globe. The time taken for ecosystems to respond to management changes (positively and negatively) need to be taken into account in any actions taken. Boundaries for management are defined operationally by users, managers, scientists and indigenous and local peoples. Connectivity between areas should be promoted where it is necessary to address the problem encountered.

Guidelines for answering this question
Enhanced understanding is required to analyse and understand the temporal and spatial scales at which ecosystem functions operate, and the effect of management actions on these processes and the delivery of ecosystem goods and services.  Identification of spatial patterns and gaps in connectivity should be included in this analysis. 

Functional mismatches in the administration and management of natural resources should be avoided by readjusting the scale of the institutional response to coincide more closely with spatial and temporal scales of processes in the area under management.  This logic underpins the current global trend towards decentralized natural resource management. 

Given that ecosystem components and processes are linked across scales of both time and space, management interventions need to be planned to transcend these scales.  Developing a nested hierarchy of spatial scales may be appropriate in some circumstances.

Managing large areas such as river basins or large marine areas may require development of new institutional mechanisms to engage stakeholders across administrative borders and different levels of administration.  

Attention to spatial and temporal scales is needed in the design of assessment and monitoring efforts. 

Concepts of stewardship, intergenerational equity and sustainable yield need to be applied to considerations of the temporal scale.

Regional collaboration is necessary to deal with large-scale changes. 

Tools
Monitoring methods
Modeling
Public participation

Further explanation
The driving forces of ecosystems, including those due to human activities, vary spatially and through time, necessitating management at more than one scale to meet management objectives. In this regard it should be noted that:
Ecosystems are made up of biotic and abiotic components and processes, which function at a range of spatial and temporal scales, within a nested hierarchy.
The dynamics of human social and economic systems also vary across scales of space, time and quality.
How components are perceived spatially depends partly on the scale of observation. At one scale, individuals of a species may seem relatively regularly and continuously distributed; at another the distribution may be discontinuous.  Likewise, at one time scale (e.g., monthly, annually) a component or process may appear predictable; at another, longer or shorter time scale, the temporal dynamics may be unpredictable.
Management processes and institutions should be designed to match the scales of the aspects of the ecosystem being managed.  More importantly, perhaps, given that ecosystem components and processes are linked across scales of both space and time, management interventions need to be planned to transcend these scales.
Failure to take scale into account can result in mismatches between the spatial and time frames of the management and those of the ecosystem being managed.  For example, policy makers and planners usually consider shorter time frames than the time frames of major ecosystem processes. The reverse can also be true, for example, where bureaucratic inertia can delay the quick management response needed to address a rapidly changing environmental condition. Spatial mismatches are also common, such as when administrative boundaries and those of ecosystem properties or related human activities that they are designed to regulate do not coincide.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme