[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The road to recovery of a deteriorated system is often different, and fraught with more barriers, than the path to the system's deterioration. This phenomenon is called hysteresis, and is inherent to systems presenting alternative stable states. In such systems, the stability of a given state is the product of positive feedback loops. A broad range of natural systems have been predicted to show hysteretic behaviour, but hysteresis has so far only been unambiguously demonstrated at cellular or metabolic levels, not yet at the population or ecosystem level. To extend our understanding of hysteresis at the population level, we performed an experiment on light-stressed cyanobacteria and found hysteresis between alternative stable states. Furthermore, during the experiment, the cyanobacteria adapted physiologically to high light levels, and deviated from their theoretically predicted pathway of hysteresis, therewith also avoiding extinction. Our experiment confirmed that a population that loses resilience due to deteriorating external conditions can show a delayed – hysteretic – recovery-response when conditions are improved. This population-level study also indicates that the slowness of these systems may obscure the true state they are in, which is important to factor into ecosystem monitoring. Additionally, we show that adaptation can drastically alter the systems’ predicted behaviour to ecosystem management. Flexibility of species and slowness should, therefore, be included in the monitoring and prediction of ecosystem responses to environmental changes.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Although some ecosystem responses to climate change are gradual, many ecosystems react in highly nonlinear ways. They show little response until a threshold or tipping point is reached where even a small perturbation may trigger collapse into a state from which recovery is difficult (1). Increasing evidence shows that the critical climate level for such collapse may be altered by conditions that can be managed locally. These synergies between local stressors and climate change provide potential opportunities for proactive management. Although their clarity and scale make such local approaches more conducive to action than global greenhouse gas management, crises in iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites illustrate that such stewardship is at risk of failing.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Alternative stable states in ecology have been well studied in isolated, well-mixed systems. However, in reality, most ecosystems exist on spatially extended landscapes. Applying existing theory from dynamic systems, we explore how such a spatial setting should be expected to affect ecological resilience. We focus on the effect of local disturbances, defining resilience as the size of the area of a strong local disturbance needed to trigger a shift. We show that in contrast to well-mixed systems, resilience in a homogeneous spatial setting does not decrease gradually as a bifurcation point is approached. Instead, as an environmental driver changes, the present dominant state remains virtually 'indestructible', until at a critical point (the Maxwell point) its resilience drops sharply in the sense that even a very local disturbance can cause a domino effect leading eventually to a landscape-wide shift to the alternative state. Close to this Maxwell point the travelling wave moves very slow. Under these conditions both states have a comparable resilience, allowing long transient co-occurrence of alternative states side-by-side, and also permanent co-existence if there are mild spatial barriers. Overall however, hysteresis may mostly disappear in a spatial context as one of both alternative states will always tend to be dominant. Our results imply that local restoration efforts on a homogeneous landscape will typically either fail or trigger a landscape-wide transition. For extensive biomes with alternative stable states, such as tundra, steppe and forest, our results imply that, as climatic change reduces the stability, the effect might be difficult to detect until a point where local disturbances inevitably induce a spatial cascade to the alternative state.
PLoS ONE 02/2015; 10(2):e0116859. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0116859 · 3.23 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Recent global crises reveal an emerging pattern of causation that could increasingly characterize the birth and progress of future global crises. A conceptual framework identifies this pattern's deep causes, intermediate processes, and ultimate outcomes. The framework shows how multiple stresses can interact within a single social-ecological system to cause a shift in that system's behavior, how simultaneous shifts of this kind in several largely discrete social-ecological systems can interact to cause a far larger intersystemic crisis, and how such a larger crisis can then rapidly propagate across multiple system boundaries to the global scale. Case studies of the 2008-2009 financial-energy and food-energy crises illustrate the framework. Suggestions are offered for future research to explore further the framework's propositions.
ECOLOGY AND SOCIETY 01/2015; 20(3). DOI:10.5751/ES-07681-200306 · 2.67 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In the vicinity of tipping points-or more precisely bifurcation points-ecosystems recover slowly from small perturbations. Such slowness may be interpreted as a sign of low resilience in the sense that the ecosystem could easily be tipped through a critical transition into a contrasting state. Indicators of this phenomenon of 'critical slowing down (CSD)' include a rise in temporal correlation and variance. Such indicators of CSD can provide an early warning signal of a nearby tipping point. Or, they may offer a possibility to rank reefs, lakes or other ecosystems according to their resilience. The fact that CSD may happen across a wide range of complex ecosystems close to tipping points implies a powerful generality. However, indicators of CSD are not manifested in all cases where regime shifts occur. This is because not all regime shifts are associated with tipping points. Here, we review the exploding literature about this issue to provide guidance on what to expect and what not to expect when it comes to the CSD-based early warning signals for critical transitions.
Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 11/2014; 370(1659):20130263-20130263. DOI:10.1098/rstb.2013.0263 · 6.31 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Self-organized complexity at multiple spatial scales is a distinctive characteristic of biological systems. Yet, little is known about how different self-organizing processes operating at different spatial scales interact to determine ecosystem functioning. Here we show that the interplay between self-organizing processes at individual and ecosystem level is a key determinant of the functioning and resilience of mussel beds. In mussel beds, self-organization generates spatial patterns at two characteristic spatial scales: small-scale net-shaped patterns due to behavioural aggregation of individuals, and large-scale banded patterns due to the interplay of between-mussel facilitation and resource depletion. Model analysis reveals that the interaction between these behavioural and ecosystem-level mechanisms increases mussel bed resilience, enables persistence under deteriorating conditions and makes them less prone to catastrophic collapse. Our analysis highlights that interactions between different forms of self-organization at multiple spatial scales may enhance the intrinsic ability of ecosystems to withstand both natural and human-induced disturbances.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector and continues to expand alongside terrestrial crop and livestock production. Using portfolio theory as a conceptual framework, we explore how current interconnections between the aquaculture, crop, livestock, and fisheries sectors act as an impediment to, or an opportunity for, enhanced resilience in the global food system given increased resource scarcity and climate change. Aquaculture can potentially enhance resilience through improved resource use efficiencies and increased diversification of farmed species, locales of production, and feeding strategies. However, aquaculture's reliance on terrestrial crops and wild fish for feeds, its de-pendence on freshwater and land for culture sites, and its broad array of environmental impacts diminishes its ability to add resilience. Feeds for livestock and farmed fish that are fed rely largely on the same crops, although the fraction destined for aquaculture is presently small (∼4%). As demand for high-value fed aquaculture products grows, competition for these crops will also rise, as will the demand for wild fish as feed inputs. Many of these crops and forage fish are also consumed directly by humans and provide essential nutrition for low-income households. Their rising use in aquafeeds has the potential to increase price levels and volatility, worsening food insecurity among the most vulnerable populations. Although the diversification of global food production systems that includes aquaculture offers promise for enhanced resilience, such promise will not be realized if government policies fail to provide adequate incentives for resource efficiency, equity, and environmental protection. food portfolio management | crop resources | diversity | shocks | global change
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 08/2014; 23. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1404067111 · 9.81 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Background/Question/Methods
Rainfall variability is expected to increase with climate warming. We used the MODIS remotely-sensed estimations of tree cover (%) at 1 km2 to explore the patterns of tropical tree cover distribution in relation to rainfall variability.
We found that rainfall variability is associated with reduced tree cover in the wet tropics globally. In contrast, high year-to-year variability is positive (South America), neutral (Africa) or negatively (Australia) related to tree cover in the dry tropics. We reflect on long-term observations to identify potential mechanisms that may explain these contrasting responses of tree cover to extreme rainfall events in drylands.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: An analysis of the maximum height of woody plant species across the globe reveals that an intermediate size is remarkably rare. We speculate that this may be due to intrinsic suboptimality or to ecosystem bistability with open landscapes favouring shrubs, and closed canopies propelling trees to excessive tallness.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The invasion of Nile perch into LakeVictoria is one of the iconic examples of the destructive effect of an ntroduced species on an ecosystem but no convincing explanation exists of why Nile perch only increased dramatically after a 25 year lag. Here, we consider this problem using a mathematical model that takes into account interactions between Nile perch and its cichlid prey. We examined competing hypotheses to explain Nile perch invasion and show that suppression of juvenile Nile perch by cichlids may cause the system to have two alternative stable states: one with only cichlids and onewith coexistence of cichlids and Nile perch. Without cichlid predation on Nile perch, alternative stable states did not occur. Our analysis indicates that cichlid mortality, for example fishing mortality, may have induced the observed shift between the states.