Progress in integrating natural and social science in marine ecosystem-based management research

Ecosystem-based management (EBM) is an approach that aims to cover the entire social-ecological system, to sustain ecosystem health, integrity and resilience to disturbances, requiring the integration of social, economic and ecological considerations. However, anecdotally, EBM has not delivered the promised benefits. Many management organisations have adopted the approach in principle, but there are few examples that are comprehensive and well executed. One reason for this may be the lack of inter-disciplinary science, particularly in regards to integration between the natural and social sciences.

Drawing on over 235 years (combined) of their own experiences of undertaking inter-disciplinary research, CMS researchers investigated: (1) are we making progress in inter-disciplinary research in EBM; (2) what are the barriers and incentives affecting progress; and (3) how can we support the next generation of researchers to undertake the effective inter-disciplinary research required to assist with operationalising marine EBM?

We found that the integration of natural and social science has progressed at most stages of the marine EBM cycle; however, practitioners do not yet have the capacity to address all of the problems that have led to the call for inter-disciplinary research. We found many barriers to inter-disciplinary research such as a language barrier, a lack of guidance on how to undertake such research, significant ongoing transaction costs, and problematic research productivity and impact accounting procedures. However, we also found incentives. Inter-disciplinary research is needed to tackle the grand challenges facing society; it also enables the development of new knowledge and methods. Lastly, we call for the development of ‘T’ shaped researchers: with academic rigor (vertical part of ‘T’) in their disciplines, but also a breadth of understanding (horizontal part of ‘T’) from other disciplines.

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