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New study to examine ecological tipping points in hopes of preventing them
Date:10/31/2012

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Predation by otters keeps urchin populations in check, allowing kelp a favorite food of urchins to flourish. But what if otters were harvested to near extinction for their fur? The resulting overabundance of urchins would decimate the kelp forest, leaving little food or shelter for fish and invertebrates. And so it may go, as declines in these species are likely to affect others.

Such is the potential trickle-down effect on the food chain of even subtle shifts in a single species tipping points that can induce wholesale, sometimes irreversible change to entire ecosystems. Examples of these ecological thresholds and unintended consequences are many the otter-urchin scenario occurred in Alaska and California but solutions are few. Some UC Santa Barbara researchers hope to change that.

A new project of scientists at UCSB's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and partners aims to synthesize existing research on tipping points in marine ecosystems and conduct case studies to devise a set of early warning indicators and management tools that may help to predict, even prevent, threatened systems from falling off the precipice.

"We know that thresholds in marine ecosystems can lead to rapid changes in their ability to support activities and services that people value, but we seldom have information about how human actions are affecting these things and how close we might be to those tipping points," said Carrie Kappel, associate project scientist and lead principal investigator (PI) on the study.

The NCEAS team of Kappel and co-PIs Ben Halpern and Kimberly Selkoe with partners at Stanford's Center for Ocean Solutions, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been awarded $3.1 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for the soon-to-launch study, "Ecosystem Thresholds and Indicators for Marine Spatial
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Contact: Shelly Leachman
shelly.leachman@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-8726
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert  

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