Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 29-36

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Return to Neverland: Shifting Baselines Affect Eutrophication Restoration Targets

  • Carlos M. DuarteAffiliated withInstituto Mediterráneo de Estudios Avanzados, IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB) Email author 
  • , Daniel J. ConleyAffiliated withGeoBiosphere Science Centre, Department of Geology, Lund University
  • , Jacob CarstensenAffiliated withNational Environmental Research Institute, Department of Marine Ecology, Aarhus University
  • , María Sánchez-CamachoAffiliated withInstituto Mediterráneo de Estudios Avanzados, IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB)


The implicit assumption of many scientific and regulatory frameworks that ecosystems impacted by human pressures may be reverted to their original condition by suppressing the pressure was tested using coastal eutrophication. The response to nutrient abatement of four thoroughly studied coastal ecosystems that received increased nutrient inputs between the 1970s and the 1980s showed that the trajectories of these ecosystems were not directly reversible. All four ecosystems displayed convoluted trajectories that failed to return to the reference status upon nutrient reduction. This failure is proposed to result from the broad changes in environmental conditions, all affecting ecosystem dynamics, that occurred over the 30 years spanning from the onset of eutrophication to the reduction of nutrient levels. Understanding ecosystem response to multiple shifting baselines is essential to set reliable targets for restoration efforts.


Eutrophication Baselines Global change Nutrients