Social-ecological regime shifts (SERS) in coastal systems
Regime shifts from one ecological state to another are often portrayed as sudden, dramatic, and difficult to reverse given the extent of substantial reorganizations in system structure, functions and feedbacks. However, most assessments of regime shifts in terrestrial and aquatic systems have emphasized their physical and/or biological dimensions. Our objective is to illustrate how equivalent concern with ecological and social processes can enhance our ability to understand and navigate ‘social-ecological’ regime shifts. We draw on two coastal lagoon systems experiencing rapid change to provide an empirical foundation for an initial analytical framework. Key issues we address include: 1) distinguishing underlying versus proximate drivers of rapid change (ecological and social); 2) considering appropriate scales of intervention; 3) considering the appropriate unit(s) for understanding regime shifts; 4) reflecting on social equity and the distribution of impacts (and benefits) of regime shifts; 5) assessing the influence of social power in the framing of and response to regime shifts; and 6) clarifying the role of management and governance in the context of rapid social-ecological change. Effective responses to social-ecological regime shifts will require a transition towards interdisciplinary research, inclusion of integrative and scale-specific suite of attributes for assessment, and interventions in management and governance approaches that are more multi-level, collaborative and adaptive.