Rapid and direct recoveries of predators and prey through synchronized ecosystem management

Abstract

One of the twenty-first century’s greatest environmental challenges is to recover and restore species, habitats and ecosystems. The decision about how to initiate restoration is best-informed by an understanding of the linkages between ecosystem components and, given these linkages, an appreciation of the consequences of choosing to recover one ecosystem component before another. However, it remains difficult to predict how the sequence of species’ recoveries within food webs influences the speed and trajectory of restoration, and what that means for human well-being. Here, we develop theory to consider the ecological and social implications of synchronous versus sequential (species-by-species) recovery in the context of exploited food webs. A dynamical systems model demonstrates that synchronous recovery of predators and prey is almost always more efficient than sequential recovery. Compared with sequential recovery, synchronous recovery can be twice as fast and produce transient fluctuations of much lower amplitude. A predator-first strategy is particularly slow because it counterproductively suppresses prey recovery. An analysis of real-world predator–prey recoveries shows that synchronous and sequential recoveries are similarly common, suggesting that current practices are not ideal. We highlight policy tools that can facilitate swift and steady recovery of ecosystem structure, function and associated services.

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Figure 1: Example time series illustrating that ecological communities can follow a predictable sequence of recovery to achieve trophic upgrades, following declines in predator and prey populations (trophic downgrades).
Figure 2: Time series panels showing predator and prey densities during community disassembly and recovery.
Figure 3: Community return time and volatility for three recovery scenarios.

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Acknowledgements

T. Young helped to sharpen the presentation of this paper. J.F.S., A.C.S., B.S.H., and P.S.L. thank the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for their support of the Ocean Tipping Points project, J. Kellner for insightful comments about model dynamics, and Guujaaw for inspiration.

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J.F.S., A.C.S., P.S.L. and M.N. designed the study. J.F.S., A.C.S., M.N. and S.M.H. collected and analysed all data. J.F.S., A.C.S., P.S.L., B.S.H. and M.N. jointly wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jameal F. Samhouri.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Discussion; Supplementary Figures 1–8; Supplementary Tables 1–3 (PDF 788 kb)

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Samhouri, J., Stier, A., Hennessey, S. et al. Rapid and direct recoveries of predators and prey through synchronized ecosystem management. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 0068 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-016-0068

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