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Registration is free and requires only your email address. Ecological Applications 8 , SS36 Introduction to the Basic Drivers of Climate. Terrestrial Biomes. Coral Reefs. Energy Economics in Ecosystems. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Stability. Biological Nitrogen Fixation.

The Stable-Coin Myth

Ecosystems Ecology Introduction. Factors Affecting Global Climate. Rivers and Streams: Life in Flowing Water. The Conservation of Mass. The Ecology of Carrion Decomposition. Causes and Consequences of Biodiversity Declines. Earth's Ferrous Wheel. Alternative Stable States. Recharge Variability in Semi-Arid Climates. Secondary Production.

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Food Web: Concept and Applications. Terrestrial Primary Production: Fuel for Life. Catastrophic shifts between states can occur in nature and are often surprising and difficult to reverse. What are the implications and how do ecologists predict alternative stable states?

Aa Aa Aa. What is an alternative stable state? Purported examples of alternative stable states ASS. There are many observed examples that infer the presence of ASS see Beisner et al. In the Serengeti, there are shifts between woodlands and herbaceous plants regulated by elephant activity and their pests Dublin et al. Another commonly studied example is a shift between clear and turbid water states in ponds and lakes e. Scheffer , Beisner et al. ASS are not restricted to ecological systems however; rather they are a generic feature of dynamical systems. Thus we can also find examples from the collapse of societies Diamond , in the tendencies of stock markets, as well as crime and disease epidemics Gladwell among others.


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Why do we need to understand ASS? The fact that ASS can exist is important for a number of reasons. Ecologists are interested in observing and understanding their study systems so as to be able to predict what they might do in the future. The problem with ASS is that if we do not know that they are possible, they present surprises. Thus, our ecological frameworks need to include them, where they may occur, to predict when and why a sudden change might happen. Just knowing the habitat conditions is not good enough if it is possible that two states might persist there.

We also need to know if a state change will be easily reversed or not, and how this might best be done if the outcome is an undesirable one. Ecologists must therefore understand the dynamics of their systems to avoid surprising catastrophic changes that are difficult to reverse. To understand dynamics, we need a good theoretical framework, best accomplished with a mathematical model.

We will now explore how one might build such theoretical understanding by using a simple example. Through this modelling example we will be able to clearly see how important related concepts to the study of ASS, like resilience and hysteresis, are defined and fit together. Also the catastrophic potential for mistakes that can arise from managing an ecological system as if ASS weren't present become evident through a modelling framework. Modelling alternative stable states: A simple example. Figure 1. Figure 2. Equilibrium points and lines are similarly coloured in both graphs to show the correspondence.

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Figure 3. Hysteresis : Observed following a perturbation to an equilibrium point, hysteresis is when the return trajectory to the original equilibrium point or state is different than the outgoing trajectory. In ecological terms, this often means that the "work" that must be done to return to an original state after a disturbance is much more than the "work" done by the original perturbation itself.

Hysteresis is a characteristic of alternative stable states and can be used to identify their presence because it means that more than one state can be observed under identical environmental conditions — at least over some range of conditions. References and Recommended Reading Beisner, B. Diamond, J. Gladwell, M. The Tipping Point. Van De Koppel, J. Do alternate stable states occur in natural ecosystems? Evidence from a tidal flat. Ecology 82 , Article History Close.

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