Resilience indicators: prospects and limitations for early warnings of regime shifts

Last modified: 
June 29, 2017 - 8:17am
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2015
Date published: 01/2015
Authors: V. Dakos, S. Carpenter, E. van Nes, M. Scheffer
Journal title: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume: 370
Issue: 1659
ISSN: 0962-8436

In the vicinity of tipping points—or more precisely bifurcation points—ecosystems recover slowly from small perturbations. Such slowness may be interpreted as a sign of low resilience in the sense that the ecosystem could easily be tipped through a critical transition into a contrasting state. Indicators of this phenomenon of ‘critical slowing down (CSD)’ include a rise in temporal correlation and variance. Such indicators of CSD can provide an early warning signal of a nearby tipping point. Or, they may offer a possibility to rank reefs, lakes or other ecosystems according to their resilience. The fact that CSD may happen across a wide range of complex ecosystems close to tipping points implies a powerful generality. However, indicators of CSD are not manifested in all cases where regime shifts occur. This is because not all regime shifts are associated with tipping points. Here, we review the exploding literature about this issue to provide guidance on what to expect and what not to expect when it comes to the CSD-based early warning signals for critical transitions.

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