Abrupt changes in ecosystems

Credit: Lamiot (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Ecological regime shifts

Human pressure on the planet's ecosystems have in some cases lead to gradual changes but more often it has lead to surprising, large and persistent ecological regime shifts. Such shifts challenges environmental stewardship because it leads to substantial changes in ecosystem services at the same time as these shifts are hard to predict and reverse.

A new study in PLOS now indicates that the most common drivers to ecological regime shifts include: climate change, agriculture and fishing. Aquatic systems, such as kelp forests, have been most affected by regime shifts. The good news, however, is that 62% of identified drivers can be managed at local or national scales, while only 38% can only be managed internationally.

Source: Rocha et al. (2015)

Food production and energy consumption major drivers 

According to the study, food production and climate change are key drivers of regime shifts that are coupled with one another and have the potential to lead to large-scale cascading effects. Food production relates to a number of negative drivers such as resource depletion, pollution, habitat destruction, and deforestation which have the potential to be managed locally or regionally. While climate change drivers needs to be managed internationally. 

Most drivers of ecological change are increasing along with the exponential growth of the world's economy. So while reducing local drivers of ecosystem change can build resilience to continued global change over the short term, global changes will eventually overwhelm local management. Indicating that it is necessary but insufficient to act only on a local to regional scale.


Out of the ashes into the fire

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