Vegetation recovery in tidal marshes reveals critical slowing down under increased inundation

Nature Communications
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Abstract

A declining rate of recovery following disturbance has been proposed as an important early warning for impending tipping points in complex systems. Despite extensive theoretical and laboratory studies, this ‘critical slowing down’ remains largely untested in the complex settings of real-world ecosystems. Here, we provide both observational and experimental support of critical slowing down along natural stress gradients in tidal marsh ecosystems. Time series of aerial images of European marsh development reveal a consistent lengthening of recovery time as inundation stress increases. We corroborate this finding with transplantation experiments in European and North American tidal marshes. In particular, our results emphasize the power of direct observational or experimental measures of recovery over indirect statistical signatures, such as spatial variance or autocorrelation. Our results indicate that the phenomenon of critical slowing down can provide a powerful tool to probe the resilience of natural ecosystems.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Vegetation recovery in tidal marshes reveals critical slowing down under increased inundation
Series title Nature Communications
DOI 10.1038/ncomms15811
Volume 8
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description Article 15811; 7 p.