Signals of impending change

Nature Ecology & Evolution



Society has an increasing awareness that there are finite limits to what we can expect the planet to absorb and still provide goods and services at current rates1. Both historical reconstructions and contemporary events continue to remind us that ecological regime changes are often abrupt rather than gradual. This reality motivates researchers who seek to discover leading indicators for impending ecosystem change. Berdugo et al.2 report an important advance in our ability to anticipate the conversion of arid lands from self-organized, self-maintaining and productive ecosystems, to a state characterized by disorganization and low functionality. Such conversions have important implications for our understanding of ‘desertification’ — which is a shift from arid to desert-like conditions.

Theoretical studies have suggested that patterns in the patchiness of vegetation might indicate how close a system is to making an abrupt change to desert-like conditions3,4,5. Empirical studies, however, have tended to show instead that simply the total cover of vegetation, rather than its arrangement, often foretells the state of the system4,5,6,7,8,9. Berdugo et al.2 combine these competing ideas into one integrated perspective. They show how major environmental drivers, such as aridity, influence both vegetation cover and patchiness, as well as where self-organizing, stabilizing forces in the vegetation are likely to be found.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Signals of impending change
Series title Nature Ecology & Evolution
DOI 10.1038/s41559-016-0047
Volume 1
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Nature
Contributing office(s) Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description Article 0047; 2 p.
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