Coastal zones are complex social-ecological systems playing a crucial role in the economic, social and political development of many countries. However, they are amongst the areas of the world experiencing the highest rates of pressures (Jackson et al. 2001, Lotze et al. 2006). This concentration of uses has serious implications for their own sustainability (Adger et al. 2005). On the one hand, uses at the base of these economic activities can be negative drivers of changes within the linked coastal social-ecological systems, potentially impairing the goods and services provided through decreased resilience or resulting in conflicts among users. On the other hand, regional and global changes can threaten these uses by speeding up the crossing of tipping points. In addition, these direct and indirect processes can interact and result in multiplicative negative effects. Recently, some studies showed the potential of multiple-use areas (PPAs) to sustain high rates of uses (Claudet et al. 2010) and economic revenues (Claudet and Guidetti 2010, Guidetti and Claudet 2010), and buffer against human-induced pressures (Claudet et al. 2011). PPAs can therefore increase the social and ecological resilience of coastal systems. However, contrary to fully protected areas (FPAs; no uses allowed), PPAs can be highly different one from the other. Therefore, it was difficult from single PPAs to generalize the specific ecological and social drivers leading to such increased resilience, and the combined types and magnitude of uses they can buffer against are still very poorly understood. Addressing these questions are relevant and timely since European and associated countries are committed through European and international agreements to protect increased fractions of their coastlines and since PPAs are almost systematically favored at the expense FPAs (because accompanied by greater social acceptability).

Within BUFFER, our main objective is the identification of the drivers of resilience in PPAs in order to sustain, adapt or transform derived goods and services necessary for human welfare in a context of multiple pressures. This objective will be addressed through the following questions:

  1. Do PPAs help to buffer against human-induced functional changes in coastal assemblages (in relation to functional redundancy and resilience thresholds)?

  2. Do PPAs help to buffer against human-induced selection pressures and in protecting phenotypic diversity (in relation to adaptations to future environmental change)?

  3. Are uses and users less vulnerable in PPAs? Do PPAs provide new opportunities for users (in relation to adaptability and transformability of uses)?

  4. Can global threats be more easily managed in PPAs compared to outside areas?

  5. What are the context-dependent drivers of PPA resilience?

To address these questions, our study cases are marine and freshwater PPAs across Europe, spanning across different ecological systems and various socio-cultural contexts in order to increase the robustness, generalization, applicability and transferability to decision-makers of our results. Our final goal is the identification and integration of indicators of coupled social-ecological resilience as tools for decision-making within the framework of better governance of policies and management of multiple uses in coastal areas.