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Exploring alternative states in ecological systems with a qualitative analysis of community feedback


Marzloff, MP and Dambacher, JM and Johnson, CR and Little, LR and Frusher, SD, Exploring alternative states in ecological systems with a qualitative analysis of community feedback, Ecological Modelling: International Journal on Ecological Modelling and Engineering and Systems Ecology, 222, (15) pp. 2651-2662. ISSN 0304-3800 (2011) [Refereed Article]

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DOI: doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2011.03.040


Demonstrating and predicting the existence of alternative states in natural communities remains a challenge for ecologists and is essential for resource managers. Positive feedback is often presented as central in maintaining alternative ecosystem states, but no formal approach relates this part of theory to real world applications. Through qualitative modelling of community response to long-term perturbations, we define generic mechanistic links between positive feedback and the occurrence of alternative states. Positive feedback diminishes a system’s overall resistance to change, and can create and maintain correlations in the relative abundance of variables that coincide with alternative states. Through specific models of the dynamics of Tasmanian rocky-reef communities, which are affected by climate and fishing and persist within alternative states, we demonstrate the ability of our theoretical framework to predict alternative states in ecosystems and inform management intervention. A qualitative knowledge of community structure permits a thorough analysis of system feedback and an assessment of the potential for an ecosystem to exhibit alternative states. We illustrate the usefulness of the approach to inform management priorities, and to focus monitoring and field research on the key drivers of ecosystem dynamics.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Qualitative modelling Community matrix Feedback analysis Alternative states Temperate reef ecosystem Sea urchin grazing
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Ecological applications
Research Field:Ecosystem function
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems
UTAS Author:Marzloff, MP (Dr Martin Marzloff)
UTAS Author:Johnson, CR (Professor Craig Johnson)
UTAS Author:Frusher, SD (Professor Stewart Frusher)
ID Code:76127
Year Published:2011
Web of Science® Times Cited:29
Deposited By:IMAS Research and Education Centre
Deposited On:2012-02-28
Last Modified:2012-04-13
Downloads:6 View Download Statistics

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