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Resilience and Regime Shifts: Assessing Cascading Effects

Ann P Kinzig, Arizona State University
Paul Ryan, CSIRO
Michel Etienne, INRA
Helen Allison, Murdoch University
Thomas Elmqvist, University of Stockholm
Brian H. Walker, CSIRO


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Most accounts of thresholds between alternate regimes involve a single, dominant shift defined by one, often slowly changing variable in an ecosystem. This paper expands the focus to include similar dynamics in social and economic systems, in which multiple variables may act together in ways that produce interacting regime shifts in social-ecological systems. We use four different regions in the world, each of which contains multiple thresholds, to develop a proposed “general model” of threshold interactions in social-ecological systems. The model identifies patch-scale ecological thresholds, farm- or landscape-scale economic thresholds, and regional-scale sociocultural thresholds. “Cascading thresholds,” i.e., the tendency of the crossing of one threshold to induce the crossing of other thresholds, often lead to very resilient, although often less desirable, alternative states.

Key words

thresholds;regime shifts;social-ecological systems;system interactions; cascading effects
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087