Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Ecosystem thresholds, tipping points, and critical transitions

May 16, 2018

Abrupt shifts in ecosystems are cause for concern and will likelyintensify under global change (Scheffer et al., 2001). The terms‘thresho lds’, ‘tipping points’, and ‘critical transitions’ have beenused interchangeably to refer to sudden changes in the integrityor state of an ecosystem caused by environmental drivers(Holling, 1973; May, 1977). Threshold-based concepts havesignific antly aided our capacity to predict the controls overecosystem structure and functioning (Schwinning et al., 2004;Peters et al., 2007) and have become a framework to guide themanagement of natural resources (Glick et al., 2010; Allen et al.,2011). However, our unders tanding of how biotic and abioticdrivers interact to regulate ecosystem responses and of ways toforecast th e impending responses remain limited. Terrestrialecosystems, in particular, are already responding to globalchange in ways that are both transformati onal and difficult topredict due to strong heterogeneity across temporal and spatialscales (Pe~nuelas & Filella, 2001; McDowell et al., 2011;Munson, 2013; Reed et al., 2016). Comparing approaches formeasuring ecosystem performance in response to changingenvironme ntal conditions and for detecting stress and thresholdresponses can improve tradition al tests of resilience and provideearly warning signs of ecosystem transitions. Similarly, com-paring responses across ecosystems can offer insight into themechanisms that underlie variation in threshold responses.

Publication Year 2018
Title Ecosystem thresholds, tipping points, and critical transitions
DOI 10.1111/nph.15145
Authors Seth M. Munson, Sasha C. Reed, Josep Peñuelas, Nathan G. McDowell, Osvaldo E. Sala
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title New Phytologist
Index ID 70197086
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center