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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Sep 1;112(35):11120-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1504954112. Epub 2015 Aug 17.

An empirical model of the Baltic Sea reveals the importance of social dynamics for ecological regime shifts.

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Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden; Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden;
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden;
Department of Economics, University of Kiel, 24118 Kiel, Germany.


Regime shifts triggered by human activities and environmental changes have led to significant ecological and socioeconomic consequences in marine and terrestrial ecosystems worldwide. Ecological processes and feedbacks associated with regime shifts have received considerable attention, but human individual and collective behavior is rarely treated as an integrated component of such shifts. Here, we used generalized modeling to develop a coupled social-ecological model that integrated rich social and ecological data to investigate the role of social dynamics in the 1980s Baltic Sea cod boom and collapse. We showed that psychological, economic, and regulatory aspects of fisher decision making, in addition to ecological interactions, contributed both to the temporary persistence of the cod boom and to its subsequent collapse. These features of the social-ecological system also would have limited the effectiveness of stronger fishery regulations. Our results provide quantitative, empirical evidence that incorporating social dynamics into models of natural resources is critical for understanding how resources can be managed sustainably. We also show that generalized modeling, which is well-suited to collaborative model development and does not require detailed specification of causal relationships between system variables, can help tackle the complexities involved in creating and analyzing social-ecological models.


feedback analysis; fisheries; generalized modeling; human decision making; social–ecological systems

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