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A Century of Ecosystem Science: Planning Long-Term Research in the Gulf of Alaska
cific Decadal Oscillation), or current human impacts (e.g., fishing) are likely to be too narrow and inflexible to support the GEM mission. Instead, the GEM conceptual foundation needs to incorporate the sense that marine ecosystems (processes and taxa) change in response to physical and biological changes and human impacts, as is clearly expressed in the mission statement. Even if the same endpoints for monitoring could be reached by choosing variables to measure in the absence of a broad conceptual foundation (NRC, 1995), it would be difficult to justify them without a conceptual foundation that provides the broad context and helps illustrate relationships.
A solid conceptual foundation will buffer GEM against inevitable shifts in public concerns, such as current concerns with Steller sea lions. Indeed, GEM is aware of the difficulty of pursuing long-term monitoring in the face of short-term interests. There are provisions for multi-decade measurements and for shorter research programs targeting specific issues or hypotheses, so that GEM can respond to current concerns without sacrificing long-term data sets that will prove increasingly useful as they accumulate. A well-designed and broad-based program will provide the best scientific basis for understanding many ecological issues of public concern.
Rendering the conceptual foundation into specific research activities implies the generation of questions. These questions can come from members of the scientific community as well as members of the native communities, fishing communities, state and federal resource managers, and any other stakeholders. The benefits of meaningfully incorporating local communities are twofold: Local knowledge and participation can enrich the scientific program and reciprocally provide a broader basis of support and understanding for the program mission. Indeed, while it is appropriate and probably necessary that a scientific conceptual foundation be developed primarily by scientists, the ability of local communities to inform and provide knowledge of the ecosystem must be emphasized.
Finally, the conceptual foundation must be compatible with the mission of GEM. This mission, as stated in the program, is broad and somewhat indefinite. Despite its breadth, the mission does focus some attention on the reciprocal interactions between humans and the marine environment, although the emphasis is heavily on natural variability, with less attention to measuring human-induced change. Humans derive goods, services, and pleasure from the ocean and consequently, marine systems are affected by these human activities. This occurs in a context of regional climatic and oceanic change—changes that will inevitably and unpredictably occur during the time scale of GEM.
Almost all resource management issues require society to determine the cause of observed system changes. Thus, the conceptual foundation