PerspectiveEcology

Crossing thresholds on the way to ecosystem shifts

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Science  14 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6479, pp. 739-740
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba7115

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Summary

As the Earth system moves through continuous changes, scientists have attempted to predict pathways the planet will follow by unraveling trajectories of individual ecosystems and their interactions and by identifying the thresholds beyond which irreversible changes might occur (1). For example, increases in global aridity are known to affect terrestrial ecosystems, but it remains unknown whether modifications in global aridity will cause gradual or abrupt systemic or idiosyncratic transitions. Now, on page 787 of this issue, Berdugo et al. (2) analyze large datasets of observational and empirical evidence from studies of drylands. The authors show that changes occur in a sequential series of nonlinear thresholds beyond which dryland vegetation can vanish, leaving bare soil to prevail.

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