Essays on Science and SocietyEcology and Environment

Passing the point of no return

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Science  02 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6316, pp. 1109
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal2188

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In the field of ecology, regime shifts are massive changes in function and character that occur when an ecosystem passes a tipping point. Regime shifts sometimes have severe consequences for human well-being through losses of ecosystem services, including desertification in arid regions and marine fisheries collapses (1, 2). These changes are difficult to predict and sometimes impossible to reverse (2). For these reasons, understanding how to anticipate and prevent regime shifts is one of the most important challenges faced by environmental scientists (13).