Ecosystem-based management: Miracle or Mirage? Mapping and rapid evidence assessment of international and Nordic research literature on ecosystem-based management

NINA Report 1802, 2020, 72 p.

Objective: This report reviews international research literature from the period 2005 to mid-2019 of relevance for “ecosystem-based management and governance” (EBM).

Method and structure of report: We used a systematic, quantitative review combining systematic mapping and rapid evidence assessment. A search (full search string in Appendix 1) in Web of Sciences and Scopus gave a total of 11 755 unique publications published from January 2005 to May 2019 in English and Scandinavian languages. After excluding those not meeting predefined criteria and not considered relevant, 1071 publications in English language remained for analysis. Analyses were quantitative (Ch 4); and more in-depth for Nordic (Ch 5), review studies (Ch 6) and implementation studies (Ch 7).

Findings: Ecosystem-based management is an ambiguous concept, yet there is growing agreement on its meaning and content (chapter 2). Mapping the 1071 publications reveals publication rates have tripled from 2005-2019. A majority deal with marine and freshwater ecosystems, while only a few concern mountain and rangeland ecosystems. Studies from North America, Australia, UK and Germany dominate. A relatively limited number of scientific journals publish a significant share of the relevant papers. The most common research design is case studies at the regional scale. As for the specific management processes studied, most publications examine aspects related to planning, the knowledge phase, participatory challenges or ecosystem services. Decision-making processes and measures implementation are less studied, which indicate a future research potential. In the Nordic countries, studies from Sweden and Norway were most common. Forest studies in Sweden and marine and coastal studies in Norway are dominating. There are also studies of the WFD in all Nordic countries to whom the Directive applies. Review studies are frequent and useful, especially for providing overviews and outlining research needs. They also underline the need for stronger theoretical foundations to achieve more valid understandings of the challenges related to successful implementation of EBM. Overall, the in-depth review reveals that sector-organization and fragmented governance structures serve as significant obstacles against EBM. EBM cannot be achieved just by providing additional natural sciences knowledge and decision-support systems. More insight into challenges of fragmented administrations and sectoral barriers, policy processes, policy change and power relations and leadership are frequently mentioned as under-researched.

Research and management recommendations: There is a need for more critical studies and monitoring studies addressing the (lack of) improvement and change of decision-making processes in sectoral policy integration. The form, role and impact of both institutional and regulatory reforms can be a starting point for the evaluation of EBM interventions. More studies of the development and application of indicators should be transdisciplinary. “Good” indicators should ideally link ecosystem states and management measures better, and at the same time be costeffective and easy to understand. Direct implications for environmental management include the implementation of; empirical and transparent decision-support systems such as MCDA; actively linking general development of EBM with more traditional measures in environmental management such as protected area networks and restoration programs, and strengthening the formal status of area plans at the regional level, corresponding to relevant ecosystems.

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