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.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Science(all)
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)