Coral bleaching increases with global warming | Photo: Claudia Pogoreutz, ZMT

Global Change Impacts and Social-ecological Responses

Programme Area 2 considers the causes and consequences of ecological, societal, and economic planetary-scale changes (e.g. global warming, increasing CO2 levels, rising sea level, deoxygenation, global pollution, changes in laws, policies, norms, social values and behaviours, prices and markets) affecting tropical coastal systems, including social-ecological feedbacks and interactions with climate.

Organism-level impacts of global stressors are studied on marine microbes, plankton, and on a range of marine plants and animals in relation to physiological, behavioural, and functional alterations. At the community level, our research addresses changes in the structure of food webs and species assemblages, as well as in the taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional facets of biodiversity.

At the ecosystem level, special attention is given to a) current dynamics and historical changes in environmental conditions (e.g. sea surface temperature and carbon chemistry), b) changes in fisheries and carbon fluxes in coastal upwelling systems, c) degradation of coastal wetlands and associated alterations of the carbon cycle at present and in the recent past, d) exploration of boundary conditions for the existence of healthy tropical coastal ecosystems, including the use of paleoreconstruction, and e) shifting distribution ranges of mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs. We quantify how these changes generate novel ecosystems, modify interspecific interactions and ecosystem function levels, and redistribute resources which human societies depend upon.

We study how changes in the abundance of resources prompt human societies to adapt and evolve in novel and distinct ways which, in turn, feedback onto ecosystems. We ask how are environmental change and resource redistributions perceived by human societies and how those perceptions drive their responses to global change. The emergence of societal responses to global stressors is analysed, including change in resource-use practices, emergence of conflicts and trade-offs, adaptation, as well as migration whether temporary or permanent, voluntary or forced, and within or across countries.

Attention is placed on alternative approaches to coastal and ocean governance, as well as on institutions and sources of social energy that support sustainable governance and management of coastal and marine systems. The role of management instruments such as fishing regulations or the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the mitigation of global change is evaluated. Ultimately, we aim to formulate and develop conceptual and computational models that can explain processes and forecast the future of ecosystems and the services they provide under various global change scenarios.