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The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Gunderson, L., Folke, C. 2004. Of thresholds, invasions, and regime shifts. Ecology and Society 9(2): 15. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art15/


Of Thresholds, Invasions, and Regime Shifts

Lance Gunderson1 and Carl Folke2

1Emory University, 2Stockholm University

A recurring theme in these editorials and journal articles is change—sometimes rapid, sometimes slow and creeping—in complex systems that involve both people and nature. As scientists, our contributors attempt to understand change and how to shape it using a variety of theories, a variety of methods, and different approaches to test these notions. As practitioners, our authors try to determine how to apply ideas about change to the management and governance of natural resources, landscapes, and regions through planning, implementation, participation, and action. These approaches and contributions are creating a body of literature that provides rich insights into the complexities of our modern world and the numerous feedbacks across scales in coupled social-ecological systems. However, it is not the only way of coping with complexities of change, as indicated by the increasing sway of ideology and theology in the 2004 U.S. elections and global policies. We argue that this journal provides an antidote to such manifestations of fundamentalism by continuing the process of self-correction found in all scientific journals: questioning assumptions, developing new ideas and concepts, and placing those ideas at risk via empirical tests. This issue continues in that vein, as described below, but first we review the journal's status and trends.

This year has been one of tremendous growth and outreach for Ecology and Society. We have successfully navigated a name change, without, as they would say in music, missing a beat. The journal has on the order of 10,500 subscribers, slightly more than two years ago. It is truly international in terms of both authors and readers. Although most of our subscribers are from North America (45% from the United States and Canada), other groups are scattered throughout the world: Europe (18%), Latin America (12%), and Australasia (10%). The remaining subscribers are located in 77 different countries. The top seven countries of origin for primary authors in the journal are the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, India, Sweden, and Germany. Submission rates continue to increase; we received on the average of three manuscripts per week in 2004. We publish about 60 to 70 articles per year in our regular issue, and even more in special features. The acceptance rate is about 40%. This year the journal has at least six active special features that are open, two of which are nearing completion with seven new contributions published this fall:

Urban Sprawl, edited by Craig Allen, and

Traditional Knowledge in Social-Ecological Systems, edited by Carl Folke.

A typology of change is emerging as well as the words and phrases needed to describe those types of change, including the regime shifts and transformations that capture the dramatic changes in the underlying self-organized interactions between structure and process. The articles in the Synthesis section revisit the concept of ecological resilience, a phrase introduced three decades ago to describe change in terms of stability domains and disturbances. Walker and Meyers discuss an emerging, readily accessible database related to Thresholds in Ecological and Social-Ecological Systems that includes both published examples and searchable bibliography. Definitions of resilience and other descriptors such as adaptability and transformability are explored by Walker, Holling, Carpenter, and Kinzig in Resilience, Adaptability, and Transformability in Social-Ecological Systems. In addition to defining these terms, the authors relate how the attributes of social-ecological systems determine the future trajectories of these systems. Tompkins and Adger demonstrate the importance of social learning in their article Does Adaptive Management of Natural Resources Enhance Resilience to Climate Change? Kirsty Park presents a hypothesis-driven, experimental approach in her work on Assessment and Management of Invasive Alien Predators.

The reports in this issue investigate a wide range of subjects. Among these are the effects of forestry and agricultural practices on ecosystems in developing areas and how they relate to economic drivers of change, such as Impacts of Type of Fallow and Invasion by Chromolaena odorata on Weed Communities in Crop Fields in Cameroon by Martine Ngobo, Morag McDonald, and Stephan Weise; the Impact of Cropping Methods on Biodiversity in Coffee Agroecosystems in Sumatra, Indonesia by Andrew N. Gillison, Nining Liswanti, Suseno Budidarsono, Meine van Noordwijk, and Thomas P. Tomich; and Markets Drive the Specialization Strategies of Forest Peoples by Manuel Ruiz-Pérez et al. The other reports and insight manuscripts describe new methods, such as The Cost of Restoration as a Way of Defining Resilience: a Viability Approach Applied to a Model of Lake Eutrophicationby Sophie Martin; Using the Species-Area Relationship to Set Baseline Targets for Conservation by Philip Desmet and Richard Cowling; Use of Road Maps in National Assessments of Forest Fragmentation in the United States by Kurt Riitters, James Wickham, and John Coulston; and The Role of Systems Modeling for Sustainable Development Policy Analysis: the Case of Bio-Ethanol by Albert W. Chan, Robert Hoffman, and Bert McInnis. Dave Maehr and colleagues provide a provocative title, as well as a response to an earlier article in Conservation Ecology, by describing limits to models in Shopping Centers as Panther Habitat: Inferring Animal Locations from Models.

Thanks to Christopher Pyke and Tim Moore, we have reviews of new books: Christopher reviewed Global Change and the Earth System: a Planet under Pressure by Will Steffen and colleagues, and Tim reviewed the volume on Interactions of the Major Biogeochemical Cycles: Global Changes and Human Impacts by Melillo, Field, and Moldan.

In closing, we end this year and volume with sincere thanks to the many people who make Ecology and Society possible. Our deepest gratitude goes to Michelle Lee and the staff who solve hundreds of problems on a day-to-day basis and keep things running smoothly. The journal could not be produced without the dedication and hard work of the subject editors on the editorial board and the hundreds of reviewers who give freely of their time to improve each manuscript. Of course, no thanks would be too much for the Resilience Alliance, that island-hopping herd of nerds who make it all possible. Finally, to our contributors, whose work contributions we rely upon. We thank you all and give you our best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.


Chan, A. W., R. T. Hoffman, and B. McInnis. The role of systems modeling for sustainable development policy analysis: the case of bio-ethanol. Ecology and Society 9(2): 6 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art6/.

Desmet, P., and R. Cowling. Using the species-area relationship to set baseline targets for conservation. Ecology and Society 9(2): 11 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art11/.

Gillison, A. N., N. Liswanti, S. Budidarsono, M. van Noordwijk, and T. P. Tomich. Impact of cropping methods on biodiversity in coffee agroecosystems in Sumatra, Indonesia. Ecology and Society 9(2): 7 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art7/.

Maehr, D. S., J. L. Larkin, and J. J. Cox. Shopping centers as panther habitat: inferring animal locations from models. Ecology and Society 9(2): 9 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art9/.

Martin, S. The cost of restoration as a way of defining resilience: a viability approach applied to a model of lake eutrophication. Ecology and Society 9(2): 8 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art8/.

Ngobo, M., M. McDonald, and S. Weise. Impacts of type of fallow and invasion by Chromolaena odorata on weed communities in crop fields in Cameroon. Ecology and Society 9(2): 1 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art1/.

Park, K. Assessment and management of invasive alien predators. Ecology and Society 9(2): 12 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art12/.

Riiters, K., J. Wickham, and J. Coulston. Use of road maps in national assessments of forest fragmentation in the United States. Ecology and Society 9(2): 13 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art13/.

Ruiz-Pérez, M., B. Belcher, R. Achdiawan, M. Alexiades, C. Aubertin, J. Caballero, B. Campbell, C. Clement, T. Cunningham, A. Fantini, H. de Foresta, C. García Fernández, K. H. Gautam, P. Hersch Martínez, W. de Jong, K. Kusters, M. Govindan Kutty, C. López, M. Fu, M. A. Martínez Alfaro, T. K. Raghavan Nair, O. Ndoye, R. Ocampo, N. Rai, M. Ricker, K. Schrenkenberg, S. Shackleton, P. Shanley, T. Sunderland, and Y. C. Youn. Markets drive the specialization strategies of forest peoples. Ecology and Society 9(2): 4 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art4/.

Tompkins, E. L., and W. N. Adger. Does adaptive management of natural resources enhance resilience to climate change? Ecology and Society 9(2): 10 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art10/.

Walker, B., and J. A. Meyers. Thresholds in ecological and social-ecological systems: a developing database. Ecology and Society 9(2): 7 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art3/.

Walker, B., C. S. Holling, S. R. Carpenter, and A. P. Kinzig. Resilience, adaptability, and transformability in social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 9(2): 5 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art5/.


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link

Address of Correspondent:
Lance Gunderson
Department of Environmental Studies
Emory University
511 Mathematics and Science Center
400 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, Georgia 30322 USA

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