Filling historical data gaps to foster solutions in marine conservation

R. H. Thurstan, L. McClenachan, L. B. Crowder, J. A. Drew, J. N. Kittinger, P. S. Levin, C. M. Roberts, J. M. Pandolfi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Ecological data sets rarely extend back more than a few decades, limiting our understanding of environmental change and its drivers. Marine historical ecology has played a critical role in filling these data gaps by illuminating the magnitude and rate of ongoing changes in marine ecosystems. Yet despite a growing body of knowledge, historical insights are rarely explicitly incorporated in mainstream conservation and management efforts. Failing to consider historical change can have major implications for conservation, such as the ratcheting down of expectations of ecosystem quality over time, leading to less ambitious targets for recovery or restoration. We discuss several unconventional sources used by historical ecologists to fill data gaps - including menus, newspaper articles, cookbooks, museum collections, artwork, benthic sediment cores - and novel techniques for their analysis. We specify opportunities for the integration of historical data into conservation and management, and highlight the important role that these data can play in filling conservation data gaps and motivating conservation actions. As historical marine ecology research continues to grow as a multidisciplinary enterprise, great opportunities remain to foster direct linkages to conservation and improve the outlook for marine ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-40
Number of pages10
JournalOcean and Coastal Management
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Coastal management
  • Fisheries
  • Historical ecology
  • Marine ecology
  • Qualitative data

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Filling historical data gaps to foster solutions in marine conservation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this