All ecosystems are exposed to gradual changes in climate, nutrient loading, habitat fragmentation or biotic exploitation. Nature is usually assumed to respond to gradual change in a smooth way. However, studies on lakes, coral reefs, oceans, forests and arid lands have shown that smooth change can be interrupted by sudden drastic switches to a contrasting state. Although diverse events can trigger such shifts, recent studies show that a loss of resilience usually paves the way for a switch to an alternative state. This suggests that strategies for sustainable management of such ecosystems should focus on maintaining resilience.
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We thank P. Yodzis for his help in improving the clarity of the manuscript. B. Holling played a key role over the past years in stimulating our discussions around the theme of resilience.
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Scheffer, M., Carpenter, S., Foley, J. et al. Catastrophic shifts in ecosystems. Nature 413, 591–596 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35098000
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