Adverse feedback sequences in exploited marine systems: are deliberate interruptive actions warranted?

Andrew Bakun, Scarla J. Weeks

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Several mechanisms for self-enhancing feedback instabilities in marine ecosystems are identified and briefly elaborated. It appears that adverse phases of operation may be abruptly triggered by explosive breakouts in abundance of one or more previously suppressed populations. Moreover, an evident capacity of marine organisms to accomplish extensive geographic habitat expansions may expand and perpetuate a breakout event. This set of conceptual elements provides a framework for interpretation of a sequence of events that has occurred in the Northern Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (off south-western Africa). This history can illustrate how multiple feedback loops might interact with one another in unanticipated and quite malignant ways, leading not only to collapse of customary resource stocks but also to degradation of the ecosystem to such an extent that disruption of customary goods and services may go beyond fisheries alone to adversely affect other major global ecosystem concerns (e.g. proliferations of jellyfish and other slimy, stingy, toxic and/or noxious organisms, perhaps even climate change itself, etc.). The wisdom of management interventions designed to interrupt an adverse mode of feedback operation is pondered. Research pathways are proposed that may lead to improved insights needed: (i) to avoid potential 'triggers' that might set adverse phases of feedback loop operation into motion; and (ii) to diagnose and properly evaluate plausible actions to reverse adverse phases of feedback operation that might already have been set in motion. These pathways include the drawing of inferences from available 'quasi-experiments' produced either by short-term climatic variation or inadvertently in the course of biased exploitation practices, and inter-regional applications of the comparative method of science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)316-333
Number of pages18
JournalFish and Fisheries
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2006


  • Complex adaptive systems
  • Ecosystem-based fishery management
  • Nonlinear dynamics
  • Northern Benguela LME
  • Population dynamics
  • Predator pit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Oceanography


Dive into the research topics of 'Adverse feedback sequences in exploited marine systems: are deliberate interruptive actions warranted?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this