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Regime shifts occur disproportionately faster in larger ecosystems

Regime shifts occur disproportionately faster in larger ecosystems
Regime shifts occur disproportionately faster in larger ecosystems
Regime shifts can abruptly affect hydrological, climatic and terrestrial systems, leading to degraded ecosystems and impoverished societies. While the frequency of regime shifts is predicted to increase, the fundamental relationships between the spatial-temporal scales of shifts and their underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Here we analyse empirical data from terrestrial (n=4), marine (n=25) and freshwater (n=13) environments and show positive sub-linear empirical relationships between the size and shift duration of systems. Each additional unit area of an ecosystem provides an increasingly smaller unit of time taken for that system to collapse, meaning that large systems tend to shift more slowly than small systems but disproportionately faster. We substantiate these findings with five computational models that reveal the importance of system structure in controlling shift duration. The findings imply that shifts in Earth ecosystems occur over ‘human’ timescales of years and decades, meaning the collapse of large vulnerable ecosystems, such as the Amazon rainforest and Caribbean coral reefs, may take only a few decades once triggered.
2041-1723
Cooper, Gregory
37b901f5-a53f-4790-a674-206c6c21debe
Willcock, Simon P
89d9767e-8076-4b21-be9d-a964f5cc85d7
Dearing, John
dff37300-b8a6-4406-ad84-89aa01de03d7
Cooper, Gregory
37b901f5-a53f-4790-a674-206c6c21debe
Willcock, Simon P
89d9767e-8076-4b21-be9d-a964f5cc85d7
Dearing, John
dff37300-b8a6-4406-ad84-89aa01de03d7

Cooper, Gregory, Willcock, Simon P and Dearing, John (2020) Regime shifts occur disproportionately faster in larger ecosystems. Nature Communications, 11 (1), [1175]. (doi:10.1038/s41467-020-15029-x).

Record type: Article

Abstract

Regime shifts can abruptly affect hydrological, climatic and terrestrial systems, leading to degraded ecosystems and impoverished societies. While the frequency of regime shifts is predicted to increase, the fundamental relationships between the spatial-temporal scales of shifts and their underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Here we analyse empirical data from terrestrial (n=4), marine (n=25) and freshwater (n=13) environments and show positive sub-linear empirical relationships between the size and shift duration of systems. Each additional unit area of an ecosystem provides an increasingly smaller unit of time taken for that system to collapse, meaning that large systems tend to shift more slowly than small systems but disproportionately faster. We substantiate these findings with five computational models that reveal the importance of system structure in controlling shift duration. The findings imply that shifts in Earth ecosystems occur over ‘human’ timescales of years and decades, meaning the collapse of large vulnerable ecosystems, such as the Amazon rainforest and Caribbean coral reefs, may take only a few decades once triggered.

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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 14 February 2020
e-pub ahead of print date: 10 March 2020
Published date: 2020

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 438464
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/438464
ISSN: 2041-1723
PURE UUID: 97b97028-8234-4ac0-9076-ae1a79d2d94e
ORCID for John Dearing: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-1466-9640

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Date deposited: 10 Mar 2020 17:33
Last modified: 26 Nov 2021 02:48

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Contributors

Author: Gregory Cooper
Author: John Dearing ORCID iD

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