Ecology Letters (2012)
Coordinating decisions and actions among interacting sectors is a critical component of ecosystem-based management, but uncertainty about coordinated management’s effects is compromising its perceived value and use. We constructed an analytical framework for explicitly calculating how coordination affects management decisions, ecosystem state and the provision of ecosystem services in relation to ecosystem dynamics and socio-economic objectives. The central insight is that the appropriate comparison strategy to optimal coordinated management is optimal uncoordinated management, which can be identified at the game theoretic Nash equilibrium. Using this insight we can calculate coordination’s effects in relation to uncoordinated management and other reference scenarios. To illustrate how this framework can help identify ecosystem and socio-economic conditions under which coordination is most influential and valuable, we applied it to a heuristic case study and a simulation model for the California Current Marine Ecosystem. Results indicate that coordinated management can more than double an ecosystem’s societal value, especially when sectors can effectively manipulate resources that interact strongly. However, societal gains from coordination will need to be reconciled with observations that it also leads to strategic simplification of the ecological food web, and generates both positive and negative impacts on individual sectors and non-target species.