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 ES Home > Vol. 7, No. 1 > Art. 13

Copyright © 2003 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Essington, T. 2003. Apollonio, S. 2002. Hierarchical perspectives on marine complexities: searching for systems in the Gulf of Maine. Complexity in Ecological Systems Series. Columbia University Press, New York, New York, USA. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 13. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art13/


Book Review

Apollonio, S. 2002. Hierarchical Perspectives on Marine Complexities: Searching for Systems in the Gulf of Maine. Complexity in Ecological Systems Series. Columbia University Press, New York, New York, USA.

Tim Essington


Stony Brook University

Published: June 3, 2003


As human exploitation of marine ecosystems continues to increase, many researchers have argued for more holistic, ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. However, because these approaches represent a drastic departure from traditional fisheries science, it is still not clear exactly how ecosystem-level measures might be implemented. Hierarchical Perspectives on Marine Complexities: Searching for Systems in the Gulf of Maine offers the perspective on this issue that might be gained by applying hierarchy theory to the study of fish and fisheries in the Gulf of Maine.

The main emphases of this book are to describe hierarchy theory, to document historical shifts in ecosystem structure in the Gulf of Maine, and to use the insights gained from the application of hierarchy theory to outline new directions in fisheries research and management. One of the principal conclusions is that management structures should be simpler, have tighter feedback loops, focus on appropriate organizational scales, and recognize that human influences on the Gulf of Maine are fundamentally different than those imposed by other "natural" influences.

One of the more important contributions of this book is to debunk the myth that human activities can somehow replace the functional roles formerly performed by now diminished populations of fish and marine mammals. An example of this myth is the contention that human harvesting of lower trophic levels, e.g., herring, squid, can remove the same numbers of these species that would have been consumed by their natural predators. Apollonio (2002) argues that, in contrast to expectations based on simplistic arguments, long-lived animals play key roles in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem that cannot be performed by fishing. By virtue of their long generation times, these species constrain the dynamics of ecosystem components at lower hierarchical levels and provide ecological "memory" to the system. Further, because these animals are capable of searching widely for patches of abundant prey, they can rapidly locate and exploit these patches and thereby reduce temporal and spatial variations in ecosystem structure. In contrast, the dynamics of human fisheries systems are slow and induce time lags into the feedback structure of the system, thereby destabilizing ecosystem dynamics. Compared to the natural dynamics of ecosystems, fisheries systems are becoming increasingly decentralized and more globalized as market forces around the world dicate fishing effort in the Gulf of Maine. As a consequence, feedback systems that might promote sustainable use and more adaptive fisheries become overwhelmed by the slower dynamics of global market demands.

The themes adopted in this book are certainly familiar to the growing number of ecosystem theorists who are interested in the feedback systems that stabilize and destabilize complex systems, and in the hierarchical structure of those systems that govern the dynamic constraints on ecosystem processes. The author's enthusiasm for the natural history of the Gulf of Maine and for hierarchy theory is infectious, and his clear, conversational writing style makes it easy for the reader to understand his explanation of the fundamental points of hierarchy theory. Moreover, the book is extremely well organized: Apollonio walks the reader through an introduction to the oceanography and biology of the Gulf of Maine, the cultural importance of fisheries to this region, and the history of anthropogenic impacts. With this information in hand, he then plunges into hierarchy theory, taking pains to accompany complex ideas with abundant examples. Based on this synthesis of hierarchy theory, he raises some thought-provoking ideas about holistic approaches to natural resource management, which, although they may appear to need voluminous data and regulatory systems, actually require a profound simplification of scientific questions and policies.

One of the main weaknesses of this book is that the ideas it promotes are terribly dated. Much of the theory on which the main points are based dates back 30–40 yr, and some of the key theories have since been discarded or refined in light of empirical scrutiny. For example, it was surprising to see particular components of Odum's theory of ecosystem development featured so prominently in light of the more recent rejection and subsequent elaboration of these components. Moreover, many of these historical theories of ecosystem development and dynamics, which harken to the days when Clemensonian views of community succession dominated ecological thought, have been replaced by alternative views that consider feedback systems that produce alternatively stable states, patterns of increasing and decreasing resilience, and system collapses as regular features of ecological systems.

Another weakness is that the presentation and development of hierarchy theory rests largely on "argument by analogy." Although this may be helpful in the initial stages of theory development, more concrete tests of these theories must surely have been performed by now. It is far too easy to find an analogy to demonstrate the importance or validity of an idea or to perform post-hoc data analyses and selectively present data that are consistent with theoretical expectations. It is much more difficult, yet more convincing, to explicitly state the expectations based on a theory and critically evaluate them. Many readers will be disappointed by the paucity of emprical data that test the author's theories about the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.

Finally, despite calling for changes in fisheries management, the book only vaguely defines what these changes might be or how they might be implemented. The failures of fisheries management are more multifaceted than indicated here, and the argument that the failure to consider hierarchical perspectives is primary among these is unconvincing. Science is attracted to parsimony, and the most parsimonious explanations for the collapse of worldwide and regional fisheries are largely economic, e.g., open access, common-property fisheries.

In short, this is an entertaining, well-written, and thought-provoking read, but not one that is likely to have more than a modest impact on the future study of marine ecosystems and fisheries management. Without clearly stated hypotheses and tests of those hypotheses in the real world, the application of hierarchy theory as described here will remain just an interesting and intriguing way of thinking about fisheries systems. In this light, the title of the book accurately describes its strongest contribution, and the work will be particularly useful for fisheries scientists who are looking for an introduction to systems analysis and hierarchy theory.


BOOK INFORMATION

Apollonio, S. 2002. Hierarchical Perspectives on Marine Complexities: Searching for Systems in the Gulf of Maine. Complexity in Ecological Systems Series. Columbia University Press, New York, New York, USA. 320 pp., hardcover, U.S.$59.95, ISBN 0-231-12488-0.


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LITERATURE CITED

Apollonio, S. 2002. Hierarchical perspectives on marine complexities: searching for systems in the Gulf of Maine. Complexity in Ecological Systems Series. Columbia University Press, New York, New York, USA.


Address of Correspondent:
Tim Essington
Marine Sciences Research Center
Stony Brook University;
Stony Brook, New York 11794 USA
Phone: (631) 632-3087
Timothy.Essington@sunysb.edu



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