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The Future of the Oceans Past: Towards a Global Marine Historical Research Initiative – Part III di Kathleen Schwerdtner Máñez et alii.

tempo di lettura: 10 minuti


.livello medio

parole chiave: Analisi storica, oceanografia

Emerging methodological approaches
A number of emerging methodological approaches are expected to have a considerable influence on future marine historical research. They include conceptual developments such as the application of the ecosystem service concept in historical analyses or the consideration of social issues like gender and equity issues, but also new biophysical tools, for example different kinds of molecular and stable isotope analyses. These approaches are not necessarily new to science, but it is their application to historical research that is expected to improve our ability to analyse and evaluate changes in marine systems and their organisms over time.

5.1 Applying the ecosystem service concept in historical analyses
Ecosystem services are an array of potential benefits derived from specific ecological components and processes, ranging from the provision of fish to the capacity of the ocean to buffer climate change. Environmental change has clearly altered the level of ecosystem services provided by marine systems, but to what extent is largely unknown. There is a need to improve our understanding of how past changes in marine systems have affected marine ecosystem productivity and marine ecosystem functioning, and how this has influenced the ability of marine systems to provide ecosystem services. The ecosystem service concept values nature in relation to human uses. By acknowledging the role of ecosystems as providers of essential goods and services, it links ecosystem functions with the economy and social spheres, including livelihoods and well-being [64]. The ecosystem service concept thus provides an approach to assess the value of marine systems, although this does not have to be a monetary valuation. More importantly, it offers a standardized method to compare these values over time, by showing how changes in ecological functions have caused changes in benefits to society [65]. Although much historical research is clearly related to ecosystem services and benefits, the concept of ecosystem services itself has hardly been used in the discipline. One exception is the decline in marine mammals in New Zealand that followed the well-documented onset of Māori sealing soon after initial settlement, and European whaling in the early 19th century [66]. Both cultures viewed many species of marine mammals as valuable commodities to be harvested, so the numbers of these mammals declined precipitously as a result [67], [68]. Now, these species are protected and their value to New Zealand as a provisioning service has declined to zero. Instead, marine mammals are currently prized for their spiritual and existence value; people enjoy directly viewing them from land, sea, and air; and they are appreciated as subjects for research and educational activities. Moreover, whales are now recognised as having important roles in ecosystem regulation [69]. Studies like these illustrate the usefulness of the ecosystem service concept as a common framework for analysing the impacts of environmental change on societies.

5.2 Developing indicators
Indicators are characteristics of ecological and social systems or their components, such as species, populations, networks, and social groups, which ideally indicate a certain state or dynamic of a system that is otherwise difficult to measure and evaluate. Because ecological and social systems are inherently complex, the use of indicators helps to describe them and their changes in simpler terms. If chosen well, indicators can track changes over time and across species or regions, and can inform managers and the general public. One of the most fundamental ecological indicators of historical change is a change in population abundance. This can be measured as a decrease or increase in the number of individuals, their biomass, average size or age, as well as an expansion or contraction of their distribution over time [70]. These indicators have been applied to a variety of records from the past. For example, archaeological records from shell middens revealed declines in the relative abundance, size and age of white sturgeon from 2600 to 700 years ago based on their bone frequency and dentary width [71], [72]. Historical whaling maps and log books have been used to reconstruct the rapid depletion of right whales (Eubalaena japonica) in the North Pacific by 19th-century whalers [73]. Fisheries catch and effort data throughout the Mediterranean have been used to analyse declines in the catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) of sharks since the 19th century [74]. In rarer cases, it has been possible to extend such analysis into the early 17th century [75]. Other fundamental ecological indicators are the basic presence or absence of a species in an ecosystem, the trends in functional groups, or changes in trophic habits and positions [70]. Future development of ecological indicators will move towards standardization and evaluation of indicators, and the development of reference levels (targets, thresholds, limits) to inform the management of marine resources and ecosystems. Social indicators are expected to play a very important role in the future for the assessment and management of coastal and marine systems and their changes over time. Such indicators can be qualitative or quantitative and are used to describe the status of social systems, and their dynamics and processes. While status indicators measure, for example, the current perception of target species, their availability or the social networks of resource exploitation, process indicators assess specific actions, changes or functions over a defined time period, such as participation, conflict resolution or institutional change [76]. Social process indicators can be used to evaluate participation and decision-making in the management of coastal and marine resources by assessing metrics such as the number of meetings, the levels of participation, and the character of social networks involved. Indicators are expected to play a far greater role in the analysis of social–ecological systems in the future. They allow for regular measurements of key ecological, socio-economic, and social–ecological processes to better understand system changes and their underlying causes [76].

5.3 Utilizing modelling approaches
A major research issue in this field is how to integrate historical knowledge and ecosystem modelling, including past and future applications and simulations. The future will bring developments in modelling techniques which increase the capability to hindcast ecosystem dynamics and ensure forecasting possibilities [70]. More comparative analysis of qualitative and quantitative models must be developed since the ability to model past marine ecosystems is crucial to understanding the present, and to predict the future. These analyses will be challenged by the urgent need to consider ecological, economic and social dimensions of change [70]. Qualitative and quantitative modelling techniques [77]–[81] have already been adapted or modified to model past marine food webs. For example, qualitative modelling was used in the Gulf of Maine to identify distinct and sequential phases in the trophic structure of kelp forests [82]. The authors used archaeological, historical, ecological, and fisheries data to document a serial targeting and depletion of abundant top consumers that led to functional loss of trophic levels, creating trophic cascades that changed the structure and function of the ecosystem [83]. In the Adriatic Sea, qualitative modelling has similarly been used to describe the historical change of marine food webs using ten historical periods that started in the pre-human period before ∼100 000 BC to the global expansion of humans in AD 1950–2000 [84]. An interesting approach to modelling past ecosystems has been developing under the “Back to the Future” approach [85]. This approach aims at evaluating historic ecosystems as tools to define possible restoration goals and to design rebuilding strategies for ecosystems. Two remarkable applications were developed for Canadian marine ecosystems of Newfoundland [86] covering the years of 1450, 1900, 1985 and 1995, and in British Columbia [87], covering the periods of 1750, 1900, 1950 and 2000. Both studies highlighted the general depletion of marine resources since the first European contact and the important changes in the structure and functioning of food webs through time.

5.4 Application of molecular tools
Molecular genetics has fundamentally changed our understanding of marine ecology. Investigations have demonstrated extensive adaptive change in marine populations in response to natural and anthropogenic drivers. Research has also shown that the estimated population sizes of several species are much smaller than census sizes, which is highly relevant for management and conservation [88]. A notable example of the use of molecular techniques in historical ecology studies is Roman and Palumbi’s study on North Atlantic humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) and minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), in which they used molecular markers to estimate the pre-exploitation abundance of these species. Their results indicated that current population numbers are far below their original size [89], (although, in a recent overview, Palumbi was careful to outline the indefinite time parameter of their study and a number of uncertainties [90]). A genetic approach was also used to estimate pre-whaling abundance of Eastern Pacific gray whales. The results substantially differed from population reconstructions based on catch records, which had considered the population to be fully recovered [91]. Both examples clearly demonstrate the relevance of molecular tools in defining baselines for management of marine species, and the recovery of depleted populations. Molecular tools also have an enormous potential to contribute to the discussion on detangling natural and anthropogenic drivers of change. A recent study using genetic data from the harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in the Black Sea was able to reconstruct the demographic expansion of this species some 5,000 years ago as a result of natural environmental changes, as well as its population collapse due to recent anthropogenic activity [92]. Molecular analyses are increasingly used in research on biological invasions, one of the most serious human-induced threats to marine ecosystems [49]. This has improved our ability to make inferences regarding invasion histories, enabled resolution of some of the long-standing questions regarding the cryptogenic status of marine species and provided means to recover the patterns of community structure of the ocean’s biota.

5.5 Advancing methods for written documents and oral history
The provenance of documents traditionally frames modes of inquiry in the history discipline. Port records, log books, tax ledgers etc. are typical sources of quantitative information, while interviews, written memories or newspaper coverage can provide both quantitative and qualitative information. Witness testimonies, especially, are increasingly used to acquire information on past and contemporary marine environments and fisheries. Through testimonies, individuals or groups share their perceptions and opinions about past events or experiences. Oral history helps to gather these accounts of the past, and to make use of traditional and local environmental knowledge that resource users have accumulated [93]. If oral histories have been recorded or written down, the time span for which this kind of data can be used extends far beyond living memory. The scientific literature on the use of oral history has grown rapidly over the last three decades [94]. But after Saenz-Arroyo’s pioneering study on shifting baselines in fishermen’s memories [95], the work by Palomares and colleagues on the establishment of abundance data from historical narratives [58], and the application of a fuzzy logic approach to data gathered from interviews [96], the methodological progress seems to have slowed, although the value of oral history has been clearly demonstrated [59]. An important aspect which certainly deserves further attention is the creation of quantitative data. Qualitative information is typically rich and insightful but difficult to control for selectivity and representativity, a problem at the very heart of the historical discipline which emphasises the critical work of uncovering problems of bias. A basic social science approach – the coding of qualitative data – can provide an important contribution in this respect. Coding comprises of the search for emerging topics and key words in documents or interview transcriptions, and their description with a unique code. This allows, for example, quantitative frequency analysis of topics. In recent years, discourse analysis, meta-analysis and digital representation have provided historians with a wide range of new methodological and technical tools to grapple with vastly increased masses of data. “Big Data” tools which organise masses of data for geographical, temporal and discursive analysis has the potential to bring historical interpretation to a new level of breadth and precision. Marine environmental history has not yet fully embraced the potential of such new methodologies. In particular there is great potential in the application of database and geographical information tools for the study of disparate oral and documentary data.

5.6 Using a gender lens
Marine resource exploitation in general, and fisheries in particular, are often perceived to be a male domain [97]. This is largely the result of the socially constructed roles of men and women within societies: while men are typically regarded as providers, women take care of the home and family. It has also to do with the traditional perspective that fishing refers to the catching of fish with specific gears, such as lines and nets. Gleaning from shorelines and reefs has rarely been acknowledged as fishing [98]. Additionally, it has often been assumed that fisheries largely operate in the public domain, a usually male dominated sphere. The rather female dominated private domain is mostly not in the focus of attention. But especially in subsistence and other small-scale fisheries, much of the administration and logistics including financial issues, as well as the processing happens in the household and through family networks. An analytical focus on public and formal practices misses women’s roles as well as a considerable part of what it takes to organize and put into practice a fishing operation [99]. This has two major implications: ignoring the role of woman in fisheries can lead to a substantial underestimation of fishing pressure, especially in coastal areas. It also leads to an underestimation of the social and economic contributions that women provide in fisheries, especially in processing and other value-adding activities [100]. A gender lens can increase understanding of the history of marine resource exploitation. Differentiating roles, responsibilities, access and opportunities of men and woman will provide a more complete picture about access to and control of marine resources [101]. Since the first consolidated publication on women in fisheries by Nadal-Klein and Davis [102], the literature has increased rapidly. While some of these publications have focussed on the role of women in marine resource collection [103], [104], pre- and post-harvesting activities [105], or their role in governing and managing marine resources [106], [107], others are rather conceptual contributions such as Yodanis’s work on the social construction of gender in fishing communities [108]. Recent work has also high lightened women’s in depth knowledge on species and environmental changes. For example, oral histories in New Zealand indicate the important role that women, often accompanied by children, once played in gathering seafood from shallow, easily accessible shores sixty to seventy years ago [109]. Women’s knowledge confirmed that fish and shellfish were very abundant and could be reliably caught or gathered with little effort. Another line of work has looked at masculinity and its linkages to fishing. For example, Fabinyi [110] has described how illegal fishing activities in the Philippines provide young men with a higher social status, while Allison has argued that physical settings and the distinct culture of fishing societies shape similar “marine masculinities” in fishing communities in different regions of the world [111]. In a recent publication, Schwerdtner Máñez & Pawelussen [99] call for a gendered perspective on the different roles of both men and women in order to better understand the history of marine resource exploitation over time.

end part III – to be continued

for full references follow the link 



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