Bundy, A., Shannon, L. J., Rochet, M-J., Neira, S., Shin, Y-J., Hill, L., and Aydin, K. 2010. The good(ish), the bad, and the ugly: a tripartite classification of ecosystem trends. – ICES Journal of Marine Science, 67: 745–768.
Marine ecosystems have been exploited for a long time, growing increasingly vulnerable to collapse and irreversible change. How do we know when an ecosystem may be in danger? A measure of the status of individual stocks is only a partial gauge of its status, and does not include changes at the broader ecosystem level, to non-commercial species or to its structure or functioning. Six ecosystem indicators measuring trends over time were collated for 19 ecosystems, corresponding to four ecological attributes: resource potential, ecosystem structure and functioning, conservation of functional biodiversity, and ecosystem stability and resistance to perturbations. We explored the use of a decision-tree approach, a definition of initial ecosystem state (impacted or non-impacted), and the trends in the ecosystem indicators to classify the ecosystems into improving, stationary, and deteriorating. Ecosystem experts classified all ecosystems as impacted at the time of their initial state. Of these, 15 were diagnosed as “ugly”, because they had deteriorated from an already impacted state. Several also exhibited specific combinations of trends indicating “fishing down the foodweb”, reduction in size structure, reduction in diversity and stability, and changed productivity. The classification provides an initial evaluation for scientists, resource managers, stakeholders, and the general public of the concerning status of ecosystems globally.