Stakeholder-informed ecosystem modelling of ocean warming and acidification impacts in the Barents Sea region

Climate change and ocean acidification are anticipated to alter marine ecosystems, with consequences for the provision of marine resources and ecosystem services to human societies. However, considerable uncertainties about future ecological changes and ensuing socio-economic impacts impede the identification of societal adaptation strategies. In a case study from the Barents Sea and Northern Norwegian Sea region, we integrated stakeholder perceptions of ecological changes and their significance for societies with the current state of scientific knowledge, to investigate the marine-human system under climate change and identify societal adaptation options.

Stakeholders were engaged through personal interviews, two local workshops, and a web based survey, identifying the most relevant ecosystem services potentially impacted: food provision through fisheries, tourism and recreation, and carbon uptake and export. An integrated system dynamics model was developed which links climate change scenarios to the response of relevant species. The model structure was developed in line with stakeholder perceptions of temperature-dependent multiannual fluctuations of fish stocks, interactions among fish, marine mammal and seabird populations, and ecological processes such as primary production. The model was used for a discourse-based stakeholder evaluation of potential ecosystem changes under ocean warming and acidification scenarios, identifying shifts in ecosystem service provision and discussing associated societal adaptation options.

The results pointed to differences in adaptive capacity among user groups. Small-scale fishers and tourism businesses are potentially more affected by changing spatial distribution and local declines in marine species than industrial fisheries. Changes in biodiversity, especially extinctions of polar species, and ecosystem functioning were a concern from an environmental conservation viewpoint. When considering potential additional impacts of ocean acidification, changes observed in the model projections were more uniformly valued as negative, and associated with an increased potential for conflicts among user groups.

The stakeholder-informed ecosystem modelling approach has succeeded in driving a discussion and interchange among stakeholder groups and with scientists, broadening knowledge about climate change impacts in the social-ecological system and identifying important factors that shape societal responses. The approach can thus serve to improve governance of marine systems by incorporating knowledge about system dynamics and about societal uses and values.

Koenigstein S., Ruth M. & Gößling-Reisemann S., 2016. Stakeholder-informed ecosystem modelling of ocean warming and acidification impacts in the Barents Sea region. Frontiers in Marine Science 3:93. Article.

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