Author: Marten Scheffer
Complex systems ranging from ecosystems to financial markets, the brain and the climate can have tipping points where a sudden shift to a contrasting regime may occur. Predicting such critical points before they are reached is extremely difficult. However, work in different fields of science is now suggesting the existence of generic early warning signals that may indicate for a wide class of systems if a critical threshold is approaching. I will review key findings and highlight opportunities as well as challenges in this rapidly emerging research area. I will also discuss barriers and bridges to move to the practical management of risks and opportunities associated to tipping points.
Marten Scheffer is interested in unravelling the mechanisms that determine the stability and resilience of complex systems. Although much of his work has focused on ecosystems, he also worked with a range of scientists from other disciplines to address issues of stability and shifts in natural and social systems. Examples include the feedback between atmospheric carbon and the earth temperature, the collapse of ancient societies, inertia and shifts in public opinion, evolutionary emergence of patterns of species similarity, the effect of climatic extremes on forest dynamics and the balance of facilitation and competition in plant communities. With the help of a Spinoza award and an ERC advanced grant he founded SparcS and now works on finding generic early warning signals for critical transitions. He is also leading the ‘South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies’ SARAS and the Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management group at Wageningen University.