Tipping points and resilience in natural resource systems

Over the coming decades, humanity is facing an enormous challenge in meeting the resource demands of an increasing human population while avoiding irreversible environmental degradation. Human adaptation to resource decline is likely to be complicated by increased frequency of biophysical tipping points.

In this study, we argue that primary industries (i.e. industries that obtain or provide natural resources for economic gain) are characterized by a set of social and ecological features that predisposes them to tipping points and motivates studying them as a special class of social-ecological systems. We discuss how several primary industry features and feedbacks can explain why some resource systems face high risk of tipping points, how social responses can affect interpretation of system behavior, and how tipping points may cascade among primary industry subsystems. In turn, studying primary industries as a class of social-ecological systems (mesoscale) can give us an improved understanding on social-ecological tipping points in general.

Finally, we give suggestions for how to advance social-ecological tipping point research to improve our ability to understand and manage (avoid or adapt to) tipping points.

Yletyinen et al. 2019. Understanding and managing social-ecological tipping points in primary industries. BioScience 69(5), 335-347.

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