EBM Roadmap > Core Elements of EBM

The EBM Roadmap defines 8 Core Elements of ecosystem-based management (EBM):

  1. Nature's Services
  2. Scientific Evidence
  3. Geographic Scales
  4. Ecological Linkages
  5. Cumulative Impacts
  6. Tradeoffs Among Human Activities
  7. Adaptive Management
  8. Network of People and Information

Moving EBM from concept to practice requires addressing the Core Elements:

  • All 8 Core Elements are integral to an ecosystem approach to management.
  • Core Elements can be addressed in phases and need not begin simultaneously. 
  • Some Core Elements might have been addressed already in a given geographic area, so EBM may not have a clear "beginning."
  • Most organizations and individuals involved in EBM play a role only in some—not all—Core Elements.

Core Element 1: Nature's Services

In ecosystem-based management (EBM), goals and success are defined in terms of sustaining nature’s services such as fisheries, climate regulation, and recreational opportunities, including any that fall outside an organization's primary mission. Nature's services are called ecosystem services by scientists.

Focus Questions:

  • Which nature's services does the geographic area provide, and where are they produced within the area?
  • How important or valuable are the nature's services provided in the geographic area?
  • What nature's services do people want and need from the focal area in the future?
  • Based on societal values, what quantitative management goal should be set for each type of nature's service in the area?
  • How might nature's services change in the future under different management scenarios?

Learn More: Core Element 1

Core Element 2: Scientific Evidence

Natural and social sciences are used to understand processes that generate nature’s services; changes in the ecosystem over time; values that people place on nature’s services; effects of human activities on nature’s services; and outcomes of management actions. Existing scientific information is used, and new research may be conducted. Scientific monitoring is used to measure progress toward EBM goals.

Focus Questions:

  • How do species and ecological processes in the focal area generate nature’s services?
  • How do human activities affect ecosystem services in the focal area?
  • How much do people value (including market and non-market values) nature’s services from the focal area?
  • What are the tradeoffs among human activities in terms of their impact on nature’s services?
  • How can scientific monitoring and models be used to measure key changes in nature's services, outcomes of management actions, and progress toward EBM goals?

Learn More: Core Element 2

Core Element 3: Geographic Scales

EBM initiatives focus on specific geographic areas, small or large. Preferably, the boundaries are defined by nature, not politics. The geographic area is viewed both as a collection of smaller places and as a component of a larger geography. To bridge these geographic scales, EBM practitioners find ways to share information, align goals, and take complementary action with other organizations and individuals.

Focus Questions:

  • What are the natural, political, and administrative subareas that make up the focal area, and what role do subareas play in generating nature's services? Examples of subareas are watersheds, bays, and towns.
  • What are the larger natural, political, and administrative regions in which the focal area is embedded, and how does the focal area contribute in terms of nature's services? Examples of larger areas are biogeographic regions, ocean basins, and nations.
  • What data are available for integrating across geographic scales to understand the focal area’s natural characteristics and human dimensions?
  • Which organizations are working on elements of EBM in the subareas or larger regions, and how can they share knowledge, align goals, and take complementary action?

Learn More: Core Element 3

Core Element 4: Ecological Linkages

When any part of an ecosystem changes, such as a species, habitat, or natural process, it can directly or indirectly affect many other aspects of the ecosystem. People are part of the ecosystem, and they affect the ecosystem and are affected by it. EBM practitioners learn about these ecological linkages, based on scientific information. 

Focus Questions:

  • Is there a conceptual model of ecological linkages in the focal area, and is it accessible as a decision-making tool for everyone engaged in EBM?
  • What are the key ecological linkages that should be given special attention in decision-making?
  • What tradeoffs and cumulative impacts are suggested by these ecological linkages?
  • Based on information about ecological linkages, how could policies, regulations, enforcement, and other management practices be changed to sustain nature’s services?

Learn More: Core Element 4

Core Element 5: Cumulative Impacts

Ecological effects of human activities can be additive, and the cumulative impacts can cause a decline in nature’s services—even when some of the activities seem harmless, the activities happen at different times or places, and the activities occur in different sectors of the economy. EBM practitioners develop and implement policies, management plans, regulations, and enforcement procedures that account for these cumulative impacts.

Focus Questions:

  • How do human activities, some of which may seem relatively harmless on their own, combine to impair nature’s services?
  • How can policies, regulations, enforcement, and other management tools be changed to account for these cumulative impacts and better sustain nature’s services?

Learn More: Core Element 5

Core Element 6: Tradeoffs Among Human Activities

The ecosystem has a finite capacity to provide nature’s services, and tradeoffs exist when human activities degrade nature’s services. EBM practitioners identify these tradeoffs and quantify them based on scientific evidence. They weigh these tradeoffs explicitly when making decisions about human activities.

Focus Questions:

  • What direct and indirect tradeoffs occur or could occur among human activities in the focal area?
  • When a particular human activity occurs and reaps benefits from nature’s services, does it cause other nature’s services to decline?
  • How could occurrence of one type of human activity affect the viability of other human activities?

Learn More: Core Element 6

Core Element 7: Adaptive Management

EBM practitioners use scientific monitoring data to measure the effects of management decisions. As conditions change and information becomes available, they evaluate management strategies and adapt them as needed to reach EBM goals.

Focus Questions:

  • Can management actions be treated as experiments with the outcomes measured through scientific monitoring?
  • Can scientific monitoring of nature’s services be used to determine net changes in societal benefits due to management actions?
  • How can management practices be adjusted as new scientific information enhances our understanding of human impacts and ecosystem function?
  • Does scientific monitoring show acceptable progress toward EBM goals for nature’s services and net societal benefits? If not, how can management practices be changed to produce better outcomes and make more progress toward the goals?

Learn More: Core Element 7

Core Element 8: Network of People and Information 

EBM practitioners interact with the full spectrum of organizations and individuals with an interest in the geographic area. Collaboratively, they learn about people’s values, define a vision for the place’s future, agree on broad goals for nature’s services, and work toward these goals. They support and participate actively in a communication network for sharing EBM information and ideas for the geographic area. They help create such a network, if it does not already exist.

Focus Questions:

  • Who are the individuals and groups with a direct or indirect interest in using, appreciating, or sustaining nature’s services from the focal area?
  • How can these individuals and organizations interact to define a vision for the future and to pursue goals for sustaining nature’s services?
  • How can they establish, support, and participate in an EBM network that facilitates communication of information, ideas, and viewpoints among diverse individuals and organizations?

Learn More: Core Element 8


Introduction | Overview | Core Elements | Further Reading | Acknowledgements