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A unifying approach to understanding transitional waters: fundamental properties emerging from ecotone ecosystems

Basset, Alberto; Barbone, Enrico; Elliott, Michael; Li, Bai-Lian; Jorgensen, Sven Eric; Lucena-Moya, Paloma; Pardo, Isabel; Mouillot, David


Alberto Basset

Enrico Barbone

Professor Mike Elliott
Professor of Estuarine and Coastal Sciences/ Research Professor, Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies

Bai-Lian Li

Sven Eric Jorgensen

Paloma Lucena-Moya

Isabel Pardo

David Mouillot


Estuaries, rias, fjords and lagoons (collectively called transitional waters, TW) are highly important ecosystems both for their high productivity but also as sites of urban and industrial development, supporting many major cities and ports. Increasingly they are accepted as transitional environments and in Europe this term has been given legal and management importance; indeed, in some cases this has led to decisions with high economic repercussions. We have thus revisited the fundamental properties and paradigms of these systems in the light of recent ecological theory. The analysis has produced a unifying approach to transitional waters, by adopting and expanding the concept of ecotone to whole ecosystems, rather than ecosystem boundaries. Furthermore we have addressed the paradoxes related to (1) the gradients concerning variability and stability in the system, (2) the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, as well as (3) the response and resilience of the system to anthropogenic stressors. We conclude that the term Transitional Waters is not merely a legal convenience or that the TW are merely an interface, with positive and negative characteristics, but ecological systems in their own right.


Basset, A., Barbone, E., Elliott, M., Li, B., Jorgensen, S. E., Lucena-Moya, P., …Mouillot, D. (2013). A unifying approach to understanding transitional waters: fundamental properties emerging from ecotone ecosystems. Estuarine, coastal and shelf science, 132, 5-16.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 1, 2013
Publication Date Nov 1, 2013
Journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Print ISSN 0272-7714
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 132
Pages 5-16
Keywords Aquatic Science; Oceanography
Public URL
Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: A unifying approach to understanding transitional waters: Fundamental properties emerging from ecotone ecosystems; Journal Title: Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version:; Content Type: article; Copyright: Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.