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Understanding fish habitat ecology to achieve conservation*


  • J. C. Rice

    Corresponding author
    1. Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 200 Kent Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0E6, Canada
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  • *

    The fourteenth J.W. Jones Lecture.

†Tel.: +1 613 990 0288; fax: +1 613 954 0807; email:


Habitat science can provide the unifying concepts to bring together ecological studies of physiological tolerances, predator avoidance, foraging and feeding, reproduction and life histories. Its unifying role is built on two assumptions, imported from terrestrial habitat science and not always stated explicitly: that competition is present interspecifically and intraspecifically under at least some conditions, and that habitat features have some persistence and predictability in space and time. Consistent with its central conceptual position in ecology, habitat science has contributed importantly to scientific advice on pollution, coastal zone management and many other areas of environmental quality, although it has been largely divorced from developments in fish populations dynamics done in support of fisheries management. Commitments by most management agencies to apply an integrated, ecosystem approach to management of human activities in marine systems, poses new challenges to marine science advisors to management. Integrated management and ecosystem approaches both inherently require spatial thinking and spatial tools, making habitat science a particularly relevant advisory framework, particularly because of the unifying role of habitat in ecology. The basic mechanisms behind ocean biological dynamics, productivity, concentration and retention, however, present much weaker opportunities for competition and less persistence and predictability, weakening the foundations of theory and concepts behind current habitat science. The paper highlights the new types of thinking about ‘habitat’ that will be required, if habitat science is to meet the advisory needs of the new approaches to management.