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Human rules may determine environmental 'tipping points'
Date:4/15/2011

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"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 al
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Contact: Richard Horan
horan@msu.edu
517-355-1301
University of Notre Dame
Source:Eurekalert

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