2011/03/13 11:00 Panel on "Social Ecological Regime Shifts and Transformation", Resilience 2011, Arizona State University

Resilience 2011 --  Resilience, Innovation and Sustainability:  Navigating the Complexities of Global Change -- Second International Science and Policy Conference -- March 11-16, 2011

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, by David Ing.

Chairs: Garry Peterson, Reinette Biggs

Relate two concepts: Regime shifts, transformations

  • Both share roots in resilience thinking, panarchy


1. Operationalizing the regime shift concept - Reinette "Oonsie" Biggs

2. Transformations and regime shifts: Links, similarities and differences between these concepts - Per Olsson

3. Anthromes as social-ecological systems: mapping regime shifts globally - Erle Ellis

4. Social-ecological regime shifts a useful concept? Trajectories vs. Regime Shifts - Kasper Kok

5. Regime shifts in social-ecological systems over historical time: examples from France - Carole Crumley

6. Traps and Transformations: Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa - Elin Enfors

Then panel

[1. Operationalizing the regime shift concept - Reinette "Oonsie" Biggs]

Millenniem Ecosystem Assessments surfaced regime shifts as concerns

  • e.g. Coral reefs --> algae dominated

Research shifts

  • Have biophysical examples, what other types of shifts?
  • Impacts
  • How many?
  • How interconnected?

Regime shifts database

  • Like an Encyclopedia of the Earth, a starting point
  • Soil salination
  • Bush encroachmen
  • What are drivers, feedbacks, impacts, and response options (to prevent or to encourage)?
  • Users: researchers, students, practitioners

Challenge:  How to identify regime shifts?

  • Definition:  Large, persistent changes in the structure and function of a system
  • Metaphor:  ball and cup models
  • See:  Biggg set al. Sourcebook in Theoretical Ecology, in press

In practice, have time series of data, have to rely on that as to whether regime shift or a gradual change or something else

  • Noisy data
  • Doesn't tell whether it's external driver or a change in some internal feedback
  • Regime shift with respect to what?

Have focused on a human-centered operational definition, based on ecosytem services

  • Definition: Large persistent (and often abrupt) shift in the set of ecosystem services produced by an SES
  • Biggs & Petersen in press; Foley et al. 2005, Science 309: p. 570-574

Three core criteria to select criteria:

  • 1. Is there a large persistent shift in ecosystem services?
  • 2. Does the shift persist on a timescale that matters for people (c.f. on a short basis, that policy-makers don't card about).
  • 3. Established or proposed feedback mechanisms that reinforce the different regimes

Currently 15 examples of regime shifts online

  • Building up as open source materials

Now starting to compare regime shifts

  • Rocha 2010, M.A. Thesis

Questions moving forward

  • How to conceptualize regime shifts in SESs?  Large persistent changes, e.g. land uses
  • Social feedbacks that reinforce regime shifts (e.g. identities)
  • Can we think of examples of transformations?

Rocha on Tuesday 11 a.m., room 241 Ventana, will speak on drivers of regime shifts

[2. Transformations and regime shifts: Links, similarities and differences between these concepts - Per Olsson]


  • Chapin et al. 2010
  • System dynamics in the middle, e.g. New Orleans
    • Learning interacts with dynaimcs and capital, impacting sensitivty
  • Drivers and disturbances
  • Outcomes could be (i) persistence, (ii) unintended (negative) transformation, or (iii) active transformations

Will focus on active transformations, specificially those that increase capacity

Want to understand patterns of transformation

  • Multi-phase, multi-scale models
  • (i) Preparing phase, (ii) navigating the transition, (iii) stabilizing phase

Social-ecological trajectories

  • Conventional management, may lead towards unsustainability and maybe a collapse
  • May be a window of opportunity to move to a new trajectory
  • Regime around ecosystem-based management as stabilizing
  • Move towards a new regime?

What constitutes a transformation?

  • Bundles of attributes?
  • Ecological knowledge that needs to enter the process to get a change in trajectory
  • Understanding feedbacks for regimes?

Sendzimir et al 2007 has been mapping feedback loops in water management in Tiscza River, Hungary

  • Paradigm:  "protect landscape from the river", fighting nature
  • Another paradigm: "living with the river"
  • How do we get a shift?  Emerging networks around the new regime, as a shadow network outside the main decision-making arena, how is it unlocked, is it a smooth process?

Transitions in Socio-Technological Systems

  • Transition people in Netherlands: Rotmans et al. 2001, Loorbach and Rotmans 2010, Geels and Shot 2007
  • Steamships ...
  • Take the social-ecological system perspective and socio-technological and socio-political to deal with transitions
  • Teaming up with social innovation people, e.g. Frances Westley
  • Develop theory



  • Complexity view on regimes
  • Much of regimes is based on linear thinking

[3. Anthromes as social-ecological systems: mapping regime shifts globally - Erle Ellis]

Was trying to understand patterns of human beings in ecology

  • Can we look at anthropogenic as regions?
  • Transitions?
  • Mapping?
  • Co we do a better job, limitations so far

Classic (wild) biosphere:

  • Human biosphere, as anthropogenic bioomes
    • Dense settlements, etc.

Anthropogenic Biomes

  • Ecosystem processes
  • Population density
  • Land use

Worked in land in China

  • Changes in population density
  • Ester Boserup (1965) changes in the way people achieve sustenance from the land

Land use regimes:  Ellis 2011, inspried by Billie Turner II

  • Intensification, Boserup 1965
  • Involution, Geertz
  • Collapse


  • Wildlands
  • Seminatural anthromes
  • Used anthromes
    • Rangeland
    • Cropland

Started empirically

  • Croplands
  • Pastures
  • Irrigation
  • Rice
  • Tree and bare cover

Clustered into anthropogenic biomes

Classification models, where the categories change

  • Used rule-based classification
  • Look over 300 years, mostly shift to used from wildlands

Biospheres like tropical rainforests are now rare

  • Can change to regime shifts
  • Regrowth of forests in northeast U.S. from collapse of farming

Anthrome transitions:

  • Intensification
  • Attenuation, reduction of engineering of landscape

Can't see in 1700 to 2000, but see attenuation if look 1900 to 2000

Planetary stewardship?

  • Can't be wild, because we have to live there
  • Thus, anthropogenic

Modeling the anthropocene

  • Global market influence, Verburg et al. (in preparation)

Working towards Anthromes 3

  • Theoretical predictive model for emergence and transitions
  • Waiting for better theory

[4. Social-ecological regime shifts a useful concept? Trajectories vs. Regime Shifts - Kasper Kok]

  • Land Dynamics, Wageningen University

Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping: A tool to explore regime shifts

Conceptual models about whether potential thresholds and regime shifts exist

What are fuzzy cognitive maps:

  • Not fuzzy sets for mathematics, not cognitive maps that are simple
  • Simple influence diagrams, good for getting a feel about how a system works
  • Give each of the nodes an input vector
  • Define a matrix with feedback loops

Can be used in participative settings, to uncover stakeholder perceptions

Can be applied with teams of scientists

  • To increase system understanding

Example of Brazil of agricultural expansion (deforestation):  influence diagram of why

  • Demand outside?
  • Inside? squatting?
  • Land use intensification, agricultural expansion, land speculation and land grabbing -- which are most important?
  • Run scenarios


  • Strengths:
    • high level of integration, can put in all factors we want
  • Weaknesses
    • Quick and dirty, will need other tools
    • Time is ill-defined

Regime shifts are a useful concept

  • Can help change perceptions
  • But worries about whether they're real:  a shift could depend on system boundaries

[5. Regime shifts in social-ecological systems over historical time: examples from France - Carole Crumley]

France from 1 BC

Climate history

  • Holocene
  • 450 BC, Roman climate optimum, a warm stable period

Changes against geography

  • 900-500 BCE sub-Atlantic period
  • 300 BCE - 300 CE:  Roman optimum, can drink the wine
  • 500-900 CE: Vandal minimum, Nile freezes

Two millenia:  1000 BCE to 1000 CE

  • Holocene well known
  • Little ice age at end of Medieval

Land use changes

  • Bronze age
  • Iron age 800 BC to Norman conquest
  • Deforestation begins in Iron Age, then reversed in Migration period

[6. Traps and Transformations: Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa - Elin Enfors]

Makanya area

Research focus:  Use water system innovations (e.g. rainfall) for improving yield levels, and to contribute to mulit-functional agro ecosystems

Systems dynamics:

  • SES can develop along different trajectories, with varying degrees of path-dependency

Poverty is persistent is sub-Saharan Africa

  • Different welfare equilibria

History:  expansion of agricultural land

  • More frequent dry spells, signalling a changing disturbance regime

Strategies for dealing with drought

  • 44% off-farm emplyment, etc.
  • 42% off agro-ecosystem-based businesses
  • 14% from savings

Social-cological trap

  • Population growth
  • Lower input / output ratio, less fallow land time

Leverage points for transformation


Fractal view, deeper gets more confusing

Linear thinking, blueprints from A to B

  • Regime shift to uncover more complexity

Continuum of dynamics

Complex systems framework with some goals.  Chronology.

  • Need to abandon causation in non-linear systems
  • Qualitative then make understandings


Navigating regime shifts?  Transformation?

  • Land use is resistent to change, even with changes in social regime

Regime shifts in information systems?

  • This may change some of concepts
  • Multi-scale isn't so crucial in information systems

Innovation research, people make a difference, they bring about changes.  Innovators, key actors

  • Less thinking this way in regime shifts, more in transformation
  • Breaking out of traps, trying out innovations that others will follow


  • Like chemists, chemical reactions
  • Regime shift, in respect to what?  e.g. fish, versus change in what people do with them; more tractable when focused on outputs from system


  • Transformation works better in social science, regime shift doesn't work so well in social science
  • Can see regime shift, whereas transformation is a process than may not be visible

Transformation as human driven? Lack of ability to get measures?

  • Seeing changes in water in a marine system

Cognitive view

  • Working with stakeholders, helps to understand how systems work.  Different for bureaucrats