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Research article2015Peer reviewedOpen access

An empirical model of the Baltic Sea reveals the importance of social dynamics for ecological regime shifts

Lade, Steven J.; Niiranen, Susa; Hentati-Sundberg, Jonas; Blenckner, Thorsten; Boonstra, Wiebren J.; Orach, Kirill; Quaas, Martin F.; Oesterblom, Henrik; Schlueter, Maja


Regime shifts triggered by human activities and environmental changes have led to significant ecological and socioeconomic consequences in marine and terrestrial ecosystems worldwide. Ecological processes and feedbacks associated with regime shifts have received considerable attention, but human individual and collective behavior is rarely treated as an integrated component of such shifts. Here, we used generalized modeling to develop a coupled social-ecological model that integrated rich social and ecological data to investigate the role of social dynamics in the 1980s Baltic Sea cod boom and collapse. We showed that psychological, economic, and regulatory aspects of fisher decision making, in addition to ecological interactions, contributed both to the temporary persistence of the cod boom and to its subsequent collapse. These features of the social-ecological system also would have limited the effectiveness of stronger fishery regulations. Our results provide quantitative, empirical evidence that incorporating social dynamics into models of natural resources is critical for understanding how resources can be managed sustainably. We also show that generalized modeling, which is well-suited to collaborative model development and does not require detailed specification of causal relationships between system variables, can help tackle the complexities involved in creating and analyzing social-ecological models.


social-ecological systems; fisheries; generalized modeling; human decision making; feedback analysis

Published in

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
2015, Volume: 112, number: 35, pages: 11120-11125

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences
    Fish and Aquacultural Science

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