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Catastrophic shifts in ecosystems

Nature volume 413, pages 591596 (11 October 2001) | Download Citation

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Abstract

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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Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. *Department of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management, Wageningen University, PO Box 8080, NL-6700 DD Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • Marten Scheffer
  2. †Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin, 680 North Park Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • Steve Carpenter
  3. ‡Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin, 1225 West Dayton Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • Jonathan A. Foley
  4. §Department of Systems Ecology and Centre for Research on Natural Resources and the Environment (CNM), Stockholm University, S-10691 Stockholm, Sweden

    • Carl Folke
  5. CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, GPO Box 284, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601, Australia

    • Brian Walker

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Correspondence to Marten Scheffer.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/35098000

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