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Top 500: Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems

2014 August 29

I’ve started a long project of identifying my top 500 articles and chapters– the papers that either had a great impact on me or that I keep returning to to illustrate a point. One of those is Jeremey Jackson et al. (2001), Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems.

The main argument– that overfishing precedes, predicts, and predisposes the present fragility of ecosystems to modern drivers like pollution– is less interesting than the case studies themselves: kelp forests, coral reefs, seagrass beds, oyster estuaries, and benthic communities. This before-after diagram drives the point home (I colored the changes):


The most depressing line is in the abstract:

Paleoecological, archaeological, and historical data show that time lags of decades to centuries occurred between the onset of overfishing and consequent changes in ecological communities, because unfished species of similar trophic level assumed the ecological roles of overfished species until they too were overfished or died of epidemic diseases related to overcrowding.

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