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The Regime Shifts Database: a framework for analyzing regime shifts in social-ecological systems

Reinette Biggs, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden; Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Garry D Peterson, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden
Juan C. Rocha, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden; Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden


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Regime shifts, i.e., large, persistent, and usually unexpected changes in ecosystems and social-ecological systems, can have major impacts on ecosystem services, and consequently, on human well-being. However, the vulnerability of different regions to various regime shifts is largely unknown because evidence for the existence of regime shifts in different ecosystems and parts of the world is scattered and highly uneven. Furthermore, research tends to focus on individual regime shifts rather than comparisons across regime shifts, limiting the potential for identifying common drivers that could reduce the risk of multiple regime shifts simultaneously. Here, we introduce the Regime Shifts Database, an open-access database that systematically synthesizes information on social-ecological regime shifts across a wide range of systems using a consistent, comparative framework, providing a wide-ranging information resource for environmental planning, assessment, research, and teaching initiatives. The database currently contains 28 generic types of regime shifts and > 300 specific case studies. Each entry provides a literature-based synthesis of the key drivers and feedbacks underlying the regime shift, as well as impacts on ecosystem services and human well-being, and possible management options. Across the 28 regime shifts, climate change and agriculture-related activities are the most prominent among a wide range of drivers. Biodiversity, fisheries, and aquatic ecosystems are particularly widely affected, as are key aspects of human well-being, including livelihoods, food and nutrition, and an array of cultural ecosystem services. We hope that the database will stimulate further research and teaching on regime shifts that can inform policy and practice and ultimately enhance our collective ability to manage and govern large, abrupt, systemic changes in the Anthropocene.

Key words

alternative stable state; critical transition; ecosystem service; human well-being; phase transition; regime shift; social-ecological system; threshold; tipping point

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087