Navigation Links
Fluctuations before the fall: Predicting and preventing environmental collapse

(Millbrook, N.Y.) By closely monitoring environmental conditions at a remote Wisconsin lake, researchers have found that models used to assess catastrophic changes in economic and medical systems can also predict environmental collapse. Stock market crashes, epileptic seizures, and ecological breakdowns are all preceded by a measurable increase in variancebe it fluctuations in brain waves, the Dow Jones index, or, in the case of the Wisconsin lake, chlorophyll.

In a paper published this week in the journal Science, a team of ecologists is the first to show that by paying attention to variability in key ecosystem processes, scientists can detect the early warning signs that herald environmental collapse. Insight into regime shiftsthe reorganization of an ecosystem from one state to anotheris critical to identifying ecosystems that will fail without intervention.

"Early warning signs help you prepare for, and hopefully prevent, the worst case scenario," notes contributing author Jonathan J. Cole, a biogeochemist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. "We are surrounded by problems caused by ecological regime shiftswater supply shortages, fishery declines, unproductive rangelandour study shows that there is promise in identifying these changes before they reach their tipping point."

The team, led by Stephen Carpenter, a limnologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, triggered a regime shift in a Wisconsin lake by introducing a top predator. The study lake was originally dominated by small fish, such as golden shiners, that feed on tiny free-swimming invertebrates. Researchers destabilized the lake by adding largemouth bass. The goal: to observe the cascade of environmental changes that eventually led to a food web dominated by piscivorous, or fish-eating, fish.

Throughout the lake's three-year manipulation, its chemical, biological, and physical vital signs were continuously monitored to track even the smallest changes. It was in these massive sets of data that researchers were able to detect the signals of the ecosystem's impending collapse.

As the number of bass increased, smaller fish spent more time swimming in groups near the shoreline, to avoid being eaten. Freed from predation, invertebrates living in the open water shifted to forms that were larger in size. Phytoplankton, the preferred food of these invertebrates, became more variable. Bass populations increased, as they fed on the smaller fish. Within three years the lake's food web had completely shifted to one dominated by fish-eating fish and larger free-swimming invertebrates

More significantly, more than a year before the food web transition was complete, variance in chlorophyll measurements was a reliable early warning indicator of the impending food web regime shift.

"The field experiment is a validated statistical early warning system for ecosystem collapse. With more work, this could revolutionize ecosystem management," Carpenter comments. The catch, however, is that for the early warning system to work, continuous monitoring of an ecosystem's chemistry, physical properties, and biota are required. The chlorophyll red flag would only work for identifying food web shifts in freshwater lakes.

Such an approach may not be practical for every threatened ecosystem, says Carpenter, but he also cites the price of doing nothing: "These regime shifts tend to be hard to reverse. It is like a runaway train once it gets going and the costs, both ecological and economic, are high."

Cole concludes, "Automated sensors, remote sensing technology, and computing are making continuous environmental monitoring much more accessible. And identifying early warning signs across a variety of ecosystems could help us prioritize management efforts."


Contact: Lori M. Quillen
845-677-7600 x233
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Related biology news :

1. Demystifying yield fluctuations for greenhouse tomatoes
2. Like products, plants wait for optimal configuration before market success
3. Smithsonian scientists help block ship-borne bioinvaders before they dock
4. Losing body fat before pregnancy can be beneficial for the baby
5. Invention helps students learn surgical techniques before operating on patients
6. Caveman behavioral traits might kick in at Thanksgiving table before eating
7. Science never seen before is focus of first scientific conference on gigapixel imaging
8. Coral algae (symbiodinium) discovered in black corals at never seen before depths
9. People want to be asked before sharing genetic data
10. New tool helps scientists see molecular signals of eye disease before symptoms arise
11. Boost ivory trade monitoring and enforcement before allowing one-off sales: UBC researcher
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Fluctuations before the fall: Predicting and preventing environmental collapse
(Date:11/4/2015)... ALBANY, New York , November 4, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... According to a new market report published by Transparency ... Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2015 - 2022", ... value of US$ 30.3 bn by 2022. The market ... during the forecast period from 2015 to 2022. Rising ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... LA JOLLA, Calif. , Oct. 29, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ ... released a new report titled, "DNA Synthesis and Biosecurity: ... how well the Department of Health and Human Services ... was issued in 2010. --> ... advances, but it also has the potential to pose ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... health pioneer, Joseph C. Kvedar , MD, describes ... wellness, and the business opportunities that arise from it ... Healthy Things . Long before health and wellness ... vice president, Connected Health, Partners HealthCare, was creating a ... the hospital or doctor,s office into the day-to-day lives ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/26/2015)... MUMBAI , November 26, 2015 ... --> Accutest Research ... accredited Contract Research Organization (CRO), has ... Chase Cancer Center - Temple Health ... ,     (Photo: ) ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... Md. , Nov. 25, 2015  PharmAthene, Inc. ... Directors has adopted a stockholder rights plan (Rights Plan) ... net operating loss carryforwards (NOLs) under Section 382 of ... --> PharmAthene,s use of its NOLs ... "ownership change" as defined in Section 382 of the ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... LOS ANGELES and HOLLISTON, Mass. ... Regenerative Technology, Inc. (Nasdaq: HART ), a biotechnology ... announced that CEO Jim McGorry will present ... Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 2:30 p.m. PT. The ... (link below) for 30 days. Management will also be ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... 25, 2015 , ... A long-standing partnership between the Academy ... been formalized with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding. , AMA Executive ... Karl Minter and Capt. Albert Glenn Tuesday, November 24, 2015, at AMA Headquarters ...
Breaking Biology Technology: