Early warning signs in social-ecological networks

Author:D'Odorico, Paolo, Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of Virginia

A number of social-ecological systems exhibit complex behaviour associated with nonlinearities, bifurcations, and interaction with stochastic drivers. These systems are often prone to abrupt and unexpected instabilities and state shifts that emerge as a discontinuous response to gradual changes in environmental drivers. Predicting such behaviours is crucial to the prevention of or preparation for unwanted regime shifts. Recent research in ecology has investigated early warning signs that anticipate the divergence of univariate ecosystem dynamics from a stable attractor. To date, leading indicators of instability in systems with multiple interacting components have remained poorly investigated. This is a major limitation in the understanding of the dynamics of complex social-ecological networks. Here, we develop a theoretical framework to demonstrate that rising variance—measured, for example, by the maximum element of the covariance matrix of the network—is an effective leading indicator of network instability. We show that its reliability and robustness depend more on the sign of the interactions within the network than the network structure or noise intensity. Mutualistic, scale free and small world networks are less stable than their antagonistic or random counterparts but their instability is more reliably predicted by this leading indicator. These results provide new advances in multidimensional early warning analysis and offer a framework to evaluate the resilience of social-ecological networks. 

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Source Citation:

D'Odorico, Paolo. "Early warning signs in social-ecological networks." Plos One 9.7 (2014).

University of Virginia
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