Socio-ecological vulnerability to tipping points: A review of empirical approaches and their use for marine management


Sustainability in the provision of ecosystem services requires understanding of the vulnerability of social-ecological systems (SES) to tipping points (TPs). Assessing SES vulnerability to abrupt ecosystem state changes remains challenging, however, because frameworks do not operationally link ecological, socio-economic and cultural elements of the SES. We conducted a targeted literature review on empirical assessments of SES and TPs in the marine realm and their use in ecosystem-based management. Our results revealed a plurality of terminologies, definitions and concepts that hampers practical operationalisation of these concepts. Furthermore, we found a striking lack of socio-cultural aspects in SES vulnerability assessments, possibly because of a lack of involvement of stakeholders and interest groups. We propose guiding principles for assessing vulnerability to TPs that build on participative approaches and prioritise the connectivity between SES components by accounting for component linkages, cascading effects and feedback processes.
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