Multiple feedbacks and the prevalence of alternate stable states on coral reefs

van de Leemput, Ingrid A., Hughes, Terry P., van nes, Egbert H., and Scheffer, Marten (2016) Multiple feedbacks and the prevalence of alternate stable states on coral reefs. Coral Reefs, 35 (3). pp. 857-865.

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Abstract

The prevalence of alternate stable states on coral reefs has been disputed, although there is universal agreement that many reefs have experienced substantial losses of coral cover. Alternate stable states require a strong positive feedback that causes self-reinforcing runaway change when a threshold is passed. Here we use a simple model of the dynamics of corals, macroalgae and herbivores to illustrate that even weak positive feedbacks that individually cannot lead to alternate stable states can nonetheless do so if they act in concert and reinforce each other. Since the strength of feedbacks varies over time and space, our results imply that we should not reject or accept the general hypothesis that alternate stable states occur in coral reefs. Instead, it is plausible that shifts between alternate stable states can occur sporadically, or on some reefs but not others depending on local conditions. Therefore, we should aim at a better mechanistic understanding of when and why alternate stable states may occur. Our modelling results point to an urgent need to recognize, quantify, and understand feedbacks, and to reorient management interventions to focus more on the mechanisms that cause abrupt transitions between alternate states.

Item ID: 46116
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: positive feedback, hysteresis, critical transitions, resilience, alternate stable states, coral reefs
ISSN: 0722-4028
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC), European Research Council, Ecoshape: Building with Nature
Projects and Grants: ARC Centre of Excellence Program, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies visiting fellowship grant
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2016 07:30
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0501 Ecological Applications > 050101 Ecological Impacts of Climate Change @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960305 Ecosystem Adaptation to Climate Change @ 100%
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