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© Kay Panten
Institute of

SF Sea Fisheries


SeaUseTip - Tipping points of the socio-ecological system of the North Sea

© (Nicholas Doherty)

Spatio-temporal analysis of tipping points of the socio-ecological system of the German North Sea under different management scenarios

SeaUseTip is the first interdisciplinary approach to assess the vulnerability of the socio-ecological system of the North Sea to tipping points. On that basis, strategies and tools for an integrated ecosystem-based management in the face of sudden changes in the system are developed.

Background and Objective

The North Sea is one of the most intensively used marine areas in the world. Increasing human activity and the expected effects of climate change are increasing the pressure on the ecosystem and thus the likelihood of reaching tipping points. This can have serious consequences for the economy and society.

The processes and interactions determining the vulnerability of the complex socio-ecological system (SES) to tipping points are not yet fully understood. In order to design a holistic ecosystem-based management (EBM), the interactions between ecological, economic and socio-cultural subsystems must be subject of a detailed assessment, and possible tipping points and abrupt ecosystem changes must be taken into consideration.

Using the example of the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the southern North Sea, SeaUseTip uncovers weaknesses in the various subsystems in an integrated approach. The focus is on fisheries and their resources. From the knowledge gained, vulnerabilities and resilience of the SES can be derived and evaluated. On this basis, we want to develop practicable strategies and tools for adaptive management. With their help, the resilience of the SES to sudden changes in the ecosystem, e.g. in species composition, can be increased and the risks of exceeding tipping points minimised.

The project is funded within the framework of the international and interdisciplinary programme “EcoBiological Tipping Points (BioTip)” of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).



Together with our partners from the fields of ecology, economics and social sciences, we work closely together within the framework of a transdisciplinary approach. We analyse spatially and temporally resolved physical, ecological and economic data sets. Thus, we aim to identify triggers of tipping points in the socio-ecological system of the North Sea, assess possible impacts and find early warning indicators. Specific models will also be used to test the effects of different management measures in stabilising the system.

An essential part of the project work is the intensive cooperation with stakeholders from fisheries, politics, public authorities, energy industry and nature conservation. Their experiences, needs and potentials form the basis of our scientific work so that in the end, tailor-made solutions and management tools for the sustainable use of resources can be developed.

Our Research Questions

Which mechanisms lead to tipping points in the composition of the North Sea fish community?

Which ecological feedbacks stabilize various ecosystem regimes?

What are the consequences for the economic and socio-cultural subsystems?

Which linkages and feedbacks exist between the different subsystems and how do they determine the vulnerability of the North Sea SES?

Links and Downloads

Project website:
SeaUseTip on Twitter: @SeaUseTip

Involved external Thünen-Partners

  • Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon (alt: Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht)
    (Geesthacht, Deutschland)
  • Universität Hamburg
    (Hamburg, Deutschland)

Funding Body

  • Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
    (national, öffentlich)


3.2019 - 12.2023

More Information

Project funding number: Förderkennzeichen: 01LC1825A
Project status: finished


  1. 0

    Werner K-M, Haslob H, Reichel AF, Gimpel A, Stelzenmüller V (2024) Offshore wind farm foundations as artificial reefs: The devil is in the detail. Fish Res 272:106937, DOI:10.1016/j.fishres.2024.106937

  2. 1

    Reichel AF, Kruse M, Letschert J, Bonsu PO, Stelzenmüller V (2024) Social-ecological tipping points in the North Sea. Bremerhaven: Thünen Institute of Sea Fisheries, 2 p, Project Brief Thünen Inst 2024/21a, DOI:10.3220/PB1719990045000

  3. 2

    Reichel AF, Kruse M, Letschert J, Bonsu PO, Stelzenmüller V (2024) Sozio-ökologische Kipppunkte der Nordsee. Bremerhaven: Thünen-Institut für Seefischerei, 2 p, Project Brief Thünen Inst 2024/21, DOI:10.3220/PB1719989205000

  4. 3

    Letschert J, Kraan C, Möllmann C, Stelzenmüller V (2023) Socio-ecological drivers of demersal fishing activity in the North Sea: The case of three German fleets. Ocean Coastal Manag 238:106543, DOI:10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2023.106543

  5. 4

    Stelzenmüller V, Letschert J, Gimpel A, Kraan C, Probst WN, Degraer S, Döring R (2022) From plate to plug: The impact of offshore renewables on European fisheries and the role of marine spatial planning. Renewable Sustainable Energy Rev 158:112108, DOI:10.1016/j.rser.2022.112108

  6. 5

    Sguotti C, Blöcker AM, Färber L, Blanz B, Cormier R, Diekmann R, Letschert J, Rambo H, Stollberg N, Stelzenmüller V, Stier AC, Möllmann C (2022) Irreversibility of regime shifts in the North Sea. Front Mar Sci 9:945204, DOI:10.3389/fmars.2022.945204

  7. 6

    Rambo H, Ospina-Alvarez A, Catalán IA, Maynou F, Stelzenmüller V (2022) Unraveling the combined effects of sociopolitical and climate change scenarios for an artisanal small-scale fishery in the Western Mediterranean. Ecol Soc 27(1):43, DOI:10.5751/ES-12977-270143

  8. 7

    Letschert J, Stollberg N, Rambo H, Kempf A, Berkenhagen J, Stelzenmüller V (2021) The uncertain future of the Norway lobster fisheries in the North Sea calls for new management strategies. ICES J Mar Sci 78(10):3639-3649, DOI:10.1093/icesjms/fsab204

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