02 Feb 2024
Welcome to the inaugural edition of our EuroMarine Researchers in the Spotlight series, where we engage in captivating conversations with prominent researchers within our network.
Resilience is a widely used concept in various scientific disciplines. Despite the apparent simplicity of its definition, accurately assessing the resilience of natural systems remains challenging. We interviewed Alberto Barausse and Camilla Sguotti, from the University of Padova. They shared their experience and learnings from leading the ReMSES Foresight Workshop (Resilience of marine socio-ecological systems: from a mechanistic understanding to an integration into policies to support diverse, healthy, and productive oceans).
- Review and evaluate ways to measure resilience in different SES components found at different hierarchical levels, through a cross-scale analysis from single populations to entire marine SES
- Identify mechanisms that enhance or dampen resilience and what stressors (e.g. fishing mortality, climate change, pollution) are relevant for the different marine system components, and understand at what scale it is useful for management to consider resilience
- Suggest methods to incorporate the concept of resilience into marine policy and management.
- A complete list of methods to empirically estimate resilience in the marine context, where pros and cons will also be illustrated, and for which system and to which resolution is best to apply them. This list will be made available through an online database.
- A scientific paper (opinion paper) about how the concept of resilience is currently treated in marine policy and management, and what needs to be done to fully incorporate it and make it operational.
- A scientific paper that will explore the optimal scale (population, ecosystem, SES, etc.) to apply resilience into marine management.
- Establishment of a network that will work at the forefront of the resilience science in Europe in the coming years that will collaborate on new grants/proposals as well as new publications.
Alberto’s scientific journey began with a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering Sciences at the University of Padova, the same institution where he now works as an Associate Professor of Ecology. His research focuses on understanding the anthropogenic impact on ecosystems and how the resulting ecological changes in turn influence society, with the end goal of supporting the definition of sustainable management strategies. He carries out research on integrated and sustainable management of coastal zones, combining tools such as modeling, field monitoring, lab experiments, stakeholder participation and local ecological knowledge.
Camilla is an ecologist specialising in marine populations and community dynamics. She holds a PhD in fisheries science obtained from the Institute of Marine Ecosystem and Fishery Science at the University of Hamburg, Germany. While doing her PhD and PostDocs she developed her passion for the use of statistical modelling to understand how marine populations and ecosystems react to anthropogenic stressors. Her current project as MSCA fellow at the University of Padova at the Biology Department, under the supervision of Alberto Barausse, aims at determining the resilience of marine ecosystems, in particular the Northern Adriatic Sea using both modelling approaches and local ecological knowledge from the fishers.
EuroMarine: Could you briefly explain what the term resilience means in the context of marine socio-ecological systems and give a brief introduction to the objectives of your Foresight Workshop?
Camilla: Basically, resilience is one of these very recently rediscovered terminologies. The definition that we usually use is that a resilient system is a system able to maintain the same structure and function without switching to a new configuration, even if it is perturbed by external stressors or impacts. The concept of resilience is tightly linked with the idea of tipping points and alternative stable states. For example, it would be the case of a coral reef that remains after being perturbed, without switching into an algae bed or other type of structures.
Given this context, the ReMSES Foresight Workshop aimed at bringing together different expertises of resilience in different types of organizational levels, from organisms to the social level of the socio-ecological system. The main objective was to find which methodologies were used by the different researchers in different fields, trying to bridge these methodologies together to inform management, as well as reconcile some problems of the resilience framework.
Alberto: Resilience is a concept used in many disciplines, by people studying organisms, processes at the individual level, communities, socio-ecological systems, ecosystems… and that creates fragmentation of knowledge, different ways of studying very related things. This sort of workshop is very useful because you put all the people coming from different backgrounds in a room and you make them discuss, which is also very fun and productive.
EuroMarine: What were the main outcomes or key findings that emerged from your Foresight Workshop? How did these outcomes provide new insights into the advancement of your research topic? In terms of new methodologies, emerging issues that were previously overlooked?
Camilla: One of the first things that we tried to agree on was the definition of resilience. We agreed that it's an evolving concept. To study resilience is necessary to start with three important questions: What resilience are we studying? (e.g., community, population…); from what? (e.g., which drivers); and for whom? (e.g., the people, the ecosystem…). This is important since if we change one of these questions, it also changes what you are measuring or how you measure it.
Then the second most important thing is to summarize the methods that are available or that were mostly used. We considered three big categories. First, some methods estimate resilience, giving a numerical value to it. Second, we have other methods that estimate the attributes of resilient ecosystems or populations. And finally, some methods try to understand the mechanism of resilience.
Moreover, we also tried to look into the policy, in particular the European policy, to see whether the resilience concept was operationalized and understand how we could better operationalize it or why it is not well operationalized.
Alberto: I would like to add another important outcome of the workshop. Putting people in the same place led to the creation of a network of people from all over Europe who look at resilience from different perspectives, which includes many early career researchers. Now, we are planning to write some papers together and thinking about further studies, further collaborations, funding applications... So that was a broader outcome, of course, but still a very important result of this workshop.
EuroMarine: Did you find differences in the difficulty of measuring resilience at different hierarchical levels? For instance, is different or more difficult to measure resilience at the level of the organism or the level of the full social ecological system.
Alberto: We found that working at the socio-ecological level is more difficult, but I suspect that's because the participation was a little biased. There were more ecologists than people looking at the socio-economic system. There's also probably a longer tradition of studying resilience in ecology than in social-ecological systems, which is a relatively recent concept. That's my perception. But I will say that every organizational level has its complexities, of course.
Camilla: If we start by studying organisms, the used approaches may be quite different from those used in studying populations or ecosystems. Some researchers who attended the workshop specialized in organisms and used more experimental approaches. These approaches can also be applied in population ecosystem studies, but it's probably easier to implement them in organisms. Afterwards, as you go on with complexity, maybe you use more field approach or ecological modelling. We saw quite some differences in the approaches that you could use and also in the kind of philosophy that you follow.
Euromarine: Following up on that question, what exactly are social-ecological systems?
Alberto: Many of our listeners may be familiar with the ecosystem concept, that is the system made up of living organisms and the non-living environment. Organisms and the environment interact, meaning that organisms are affected by the environment, and the environment is affected by organisms. At the same time, humans have their own system: the socio-economic system. We're all very familiar with that because we are a part of it. However, we don't realize that usually the ecosystem and socio-economic system are linked, human impacting on the ecosystem and the other way. One example would be the benefits that nature provides us with, the so-called ecosystem services. Therefore, you have one system affecting another, you have feedback, and all sorts of interactions. Consequently, it is also correct to speak of social-ecological systems: the set of the human system and the ecological system, which are interrelated.
EuroMarine: Have you published a peer-reviewed article or any other form of scientific publication based on the Foresight Workshop? If so, could you provide some details about the publication and its impact on the field?
Camilla: It is something that we are still working on because the workshop was just in November, so we need a bit more time. But the idea is to publish at least two scientific papers from it, hopefully this year.
EuroMarine: Did your Foresight Workshop lead to any follow-up actions such as additional funding received? If yes, could you describe the subsequent projects or initiatives that resulted from the workshop? Or is that something that you might think about?
Alberto: Well, first of all, one idea that came out of this workshop is that we should do an intersystem comparison. Marine systems across Europe are very data-rich and are somehow similar, like the Adriatic Sea which is the ecosystem that Camilla and I work mostly on because it's landlocked by Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and the Baltic Sea, which is in Northern Europe. So there has been a lot of research about the systems, but not so many comparisons to my knowledge. The idea of creating this network of scientists who are experts in resilience is also to try to apply for funding or develop more ideas in a group of European researchers.
EuroMarine: Have you presented your research findings or the findings of this workshop to policymakers or other stakeholders in the marine science community?
Alberto: I would say that one of the main outputs of this workshop, at least to me, was that resilience is very much relevant to the conservation and management of marine ecosystems. However, it’s not operationalized at the moment in our policies and there are several reasons for this, from technical reasons to policy ones. I think it will be very, very interesting to discuss with policymakers why they will need to include resilience thinking in the next framings of our policies or their decision-making. But, as you can see from what I was saying, we're still in the early stages of developing this relationship between policy and resilience. We're writing a paper about that because there is a lot to do before putting resilience clearly into management. You need to be very clear about these concepts before making them operational, otherwise you just create further confusion.
EuroMarine: Building up on this, did you experience any difficulties in engaging with managers and policymakers? Do you have any advice for engaging with policymakers?
Alberto: I work quite a lot with decision-makers and the advice that came out of the workshop is very much similar to what is based on my experience. As scientists, we have to go and talk to the policymakers because it won't happen the other way. In my opinion, we need to start from practical cases. For example, in my case, a very important argument to discuss with decision-makers about the importance of resilience thinking is that natural conservation can also be a source of benefits, such as local jobs, which is something that all politicians in the world understand and value. It is here, when you try to find a common language, that this sort of process becomes easier. However, in my opinion, the interaction has to be started by the scientists. The burden of proof is upon us.
EuroMarine: Looking back, how would you assess the overall impact of the Foresight Workshop on your research and career? Did it open up new opportunities, enhance your visibility, or lead to further collaborations beyond the initial workshop?
Camilla: The workshop had a great impact on our current research and career because it gave us the opportunity to meet and talk with a lot of other researchers. We know that science is about collaborating and discussing ideas, so this workshop helped us to find scientists who work on similar topics. It gave us the possibility of starting new collaborations developing new research and starting a new interesting path also of our research in the future.
It was also a nice opportunity to show the University of Padova to researchers from Europe, in particular Chioggia, which is the city where we did the workshop and the marine biology seat of the University of Padova.
Alberto: We do a lot of local research on the Venice lagoon and on the Adriatic Sea. We are not just theoretical ecologists but we also work on management. When you do that, you start from local case studies and there is a risk connected with that: being too local. Therefore, it's a huge value for us to be able to bring people from all over Europe (Germany, Spain, France, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Italy…) and exchange ideas. Also, for early career researchers, such as PhD students or postdoctoral fellows, it's really important to see all the people coming to the place where they work on a daily basis and discuss. It's something I would recommend to the larger marine network to organize.
EuroMarine: What advice or suggestions would you give to future Foresight Workshop leads in terms of maximizing the benefits and outcomes of the workshop?
Alberto: One piece of advice, is trying to cover different expertise, especially if you organize a workshop that aims to be transdisciplinary. Moreover, it is very important to have good geographical coverage, because people in northern Europe, for example, think slightly differently than in Southern Europe, although they face similar problems. Therefore, we found really important to bring people from all over Europe and exchange ideas. That's one thing for sure. The second one is not being too strict in defining the program of your workshop because it will be messed up. Leave a lot of space for discussion, which is the fun part of this kind of event.
Camilla: We also found that sometimes working in smaller groups helped a lot in enhancing the participation of everyone from the workshop. Enhancing the discussion and making it more dynamic was also important. It is less tiring than a whole day of a plenary discussion, which can be tiring if the workshop lasts for days as in our case. So those sort of break up sessions are very useful also to to make the atmosphere more relaxed.