Timescales and the management of ecological systems

Human management of ecological systems, including issues like fisheries, invasive species, and restoration, as well as others, often must be undertaken with limited information. This means that developing general principles and heuristic approaches is important. Here, I focus on one aspect, the importance of an explicit consideration of time, which arises because of the inherent limitations in the response of ecological systems. I focus mainly on simple systems and models, beginning with systems without density dependence, which are therefore linear. Even for these systems, it is important to recognize the necessary delays in the response of the ecological system to management. Here, I also provide details for optimization that show how general results emerge and emphasize how delays due to demography and life histories can change the optimal management approach. A brief discussion of systems with density dependence and tipping points shows that the same themes emerge, namely, that when considering issues of restoration or management to change the state of an ecological system, that timescales need explicit consideration and may change the optimal approach in important ways.

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