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The Ecosystem Approach Advanced User Guide


1. Introduction

Explanation
Ecosystems change, including species composition and population abundance.  Hence, management should adapt to the changes.  Apart from their inherent dynamics of change, ecosystems are beset by a complex of uncertainties and potential "surprises" in the human, biological and environmental realms.  Traditional disturbance regimes may be important for ecosystem structure and functioning, and may need to be maintained or restored.  The utilization of adaptive management is necessary to anticipate and cater for such changes and events. There should be caution in making any decision that may foreclose future options, but at the same time, consideration should be given to mitigating actions that will enable adaptation to long-term changes such as climate change.

Guidelines for answering this question
Adaptive management is needed to respond to changing social and ecological conditions, and to allow management plans and actions to evolve in light of experience. 

Natural resource managers must recognize that natural and human-induced change is inevitable and take this into account in their management plans. 

Adaptive management should be encouraged when there is a risk of degradation or loss of habitats, as it can facilitate taking early actions in response to change.  

Monitoring systems, both socio-economic and ecological, are an integral part of adaptive management, and should not be developed in isolation from the goals and objectives of management activities. 

Adaptive management must identify and take account of risks and uncertainties.  

Where changes occur across national borders, the scale of adaptive management may need to be adjusted. 

While ecosystems are inherently dynamic and resilient, special adaptation and mitigation measures are needed for human-induced problems such as climate change that may push ecosystems beyond the limits of natural variation. Capacity-building efforts are needed to address highly vulnerable areas such as small island states and coastal areas. 

Traditional knowledge and practice should be used to enable better detection and understanding of ecosystem change, and to develop appropriate adaptation measures. 

Adaptive management should recognize the resilient capacity of ecosystems in response to natural disturbances, and should be aimed at maintaining or restoring this capacity so as to reduce the risk of adverse social and economic consequences of natural variability in ecosystems.

Awareness-raising measures are needed to enhance public knowledge that ecosystem change is a natural phenomenon, and to build support and capacity for adaptive management. 

Tools
Monitoring methods
Modeling
Participation programmes


Further explanation
Change in ecosystems is both natural and inevitable, and therefore management objectives should not be construed as fixed outcomes but rather the maintenance of natural ecological processes. In this regard it should be noted that:
Ecosystems change constantly as a result of natural processes. Those changes include shifts in species composition, population abundance, and physical characteristics.
Such changes are not necessarily constant, rather they are variable, dynamic and usually difficult to predict at any point in time.
It is therefore difficult to select an appropriate outcome or future state of an ecosystem as a static management goal. Instead, in addressing this and Task 8, management should focus on maintaining the natural processes, which drive those changes.
This focus on processes requires a management approach that is flexible and adaptive, both as a response to changing circumstances and to take account of new knowledge and understanding. Adaptive management should generate new knowledge and reduce uncertainties, thereby allowing the manager to anticipate and cater for change.
Ecosystem management must therefore involve a learning process that will help to adapt methods and practices to improve the ways in which these systems are being managed and monitored. Flexibility is also needed in policy-making and implementation. Long-term, inflexible decisions are likely to be ineffective or detrimental.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme