Sudden losses to food production (that is, shocks) and their consequences across land and sea pose cumulative threats to global sustainability. We conducted an integrated assessment of global production data from crop, livestock, aquaculture and fisheries sectors over 53 years to understand how shocks occurring in one food sector can create diverse and linked challenges among others. We show that some regions are shock hotspots, exposed frequently to shocks across multiple sectors. Critically, shock frequency has increased through time on land and sea at a global scale. Geopolitical and extreme-weather events were the main shock drivers identified, but with considerable differences across sectors. We illustrate how social and ecological drivers, influenced by the dynamics of the food system, can spill over multiple food sectors and create synchronous challenges or trade-offs among terrestrial and aquatic systems. In a more shock-prone and interconnected world, bold food policy and social protection mechanisms that help people anticipate, cope with and recover from losses will be central to sustainability.

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Data availability

Crop and livestock production data were accessed through FAOSTAT (http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/). For marine fisheries production, we used the published dataset by Watson54 at https://www.nature.com/articles/sdata201739. Aquaculture and inland fisheries data were extracted from global production datasets using FishStat software (www.fao.org/fishery/topic/166235/en). All code and data products used for analyses in this study are publicly available through a GitHub repository (https://github.com/cottrellr/shocks). All data that support this study are available from the corresponding author on request.

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The authors acknowledge funding and intellectual support from the Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania, and R.S.C. acknowledges funding from the CSIRO-UTAS Quantitative Marine Science Program and Australian Training Program.

Author information


  1. Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia

    • Richard S. Cottrell
    • , Kirsty L. Nash
    • , Aysha Fleming
    • , Elizabeth A. Fulton
    • , Sara Hornborg
    • , Reg A. Watson
    •  & Julia L. Blanchard
  2. Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia

    • Richard S. Cottrell
    • , Kirsty L. Nash
    • , Stuart P. Corney
    • , Sara Hornborg
    • , Alexandra Johne
    • , Reg A. Watson
    •  & Julia L. Blanchard
  3. National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

    • Benjamin S. Halpern
  4. Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

    • Benjamin S. Halpern
  5. Imperial College London, Ascot, UK

    • Benjamin S. Halpern
  6. Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia

    • Tomas A. Remenyi
  7. CSIRO Land and Water, Hobart, Australia

    • Aysha Fleming
  8. CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart, Australia

    • Elizabeth A. Fulton
    •  & Sara Hornborg
  9. Agrifood and Bioscience, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, Gothenburg, Sweden

    • Sara Hornborg


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R.S.C., J.L.B., K.L.N. and B.S.H. designed the study. R.S.C. conducted the analysis and wrote the paper. T.A.R. assisted with the figures. A.J. assisted with qualitative analysis of shock drivers. All authors contributed to development of the paper through methodological advice, comments and edits of the text and figures.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Richard S. Cottrell.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures 1–5, Supplementary Table 1 Legend, Supplementary References 1–182

  2. Supplementary Table 1

    Data table with detailed information for each shock including location (region, sub-region and country), year, food sector, magnitude, recovery time, driver description and category, and co-occurrence

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