Regime Shifts and Spatial Resilience in a Coral Reef Seascape

Ecosystems are shaped by natural processes such as predator–prey interactions and climate, as well as by human activities such as harvesting and pollution. Resilient ecosystems are able to absorb disturbances, but chronic stressors may reduce the capacity of an ecosystem to cope with change. The ability of ecosystems to absorb disturbance and at the same time maintain their structure, processes, and function is known as resilience.

Accumulated evidence from many systems (e.g., coral reefs, forests, rangelands, and shallow lakes) suggests that when pushed past a threshold (i.e., beyond their resilience), ecosystems can undergo a regime shift to an alternative state. From an anthropocentric perspective these alternative states may be less desirable than the initial state depending on the ecosystem goods and services they produce. Strong feedbacks in the alternate state may also make recovery to the original state difficult, even after the original stressors are removed. Human dimensions such as opportunity and governance also comprise an important aspect of resilience because they influence how sustainably resources are used, thereby shifting the resilience threshold.

Selgrath, J.C., Peterson, G.D., Thyresson, M., Nyström, M. & S.E. Gergel (2017). Regime Shifts and Spatial Resilience in a Coral Reef Seascape. In: Learning Landscape Ecology,  Springer New York.  pp. 301-322. DOI 10.1007/978-1-4939-6374-4_18