An indicator-based approach for assessing marine ecosystem resilience

Marine ecosystems are under threat from a range of human pressures, notably climate change, overexploitation, and habitat destruction. The resulting loss of species and biodiversity can cause abrupt and potentially irreversible changes in their structure and functioning. Consequently, maximizing resilience has emerged as a key concept in conservation and management. However, despite a well-developed theory, there is an urgent need for a framework that can quantify key components promoting resilience by accounting for the role of biodiversity. In this study, we applied an indicator-based approach to assess the potential resilience of marine ecosystems using the North Sea as an illustrative case study. More specifically, we quantified and compared multiple indicators of ecological resilience, estimated based on high-resolution monitoring data on marine demersal fish species, combined with information on ecological traits. Our results show a pronounced spatial structuring of indicators, including both similarities and differences among individual metrics and indicators. This implies that high resilience cannot be achieved by maximizing all individual aspects of resilience, simply because there seems to be inherent trade-offs between these components. Our framework is generic and is therefore applicable to other systems and can inform spatial planning and management.