Long-term transients help explain regime shifts in consumer-renewable resource systems

Maarten B. Eppinga, Koen Siteur, Mara Baudena, Martin O. Reader, Hanneke van ’t Veen, John M. Anderies, Maria J. Santos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


As planetary boundaries loom, there is an urgent need to develop sustainable equilibriums between societies and the resources they consume, thereby avoiding regime shifts to undesired states. Transient system trajectories to a stable state may differ substantially, posing significant challenges to distinguishing sustainable from unsustainable trajectories. We use stylized models to show how feedbacks between anthropogenic harvest regimes and resource availability drive transient dynamics. We show how substantial time lags may occur between interventions and social-ecological outcomes, and that sudden system collapses need not be linked to recent environmental changes. Historical reconstructions of island state populations show a variety of transient dynamics that closely corresponds to model expectations based on island differences in productivity and harvesting regime. We conclude that vulnerable social-ecological systems may persist when the population:resource ratio remains within a viable range of intermediate (rather than small) values, which implies that averting environmental crises may require counter-intuitive measures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number42
JournalCommunications Earth and Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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