Ecosystems

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 1–13 | Cite as

Ecological Thresholds: The Key to Successful Environmental Management or an Important Concept with No Practical Application?

  • Peter M. Groffman
  • Jill S. Baron
  • Tamara Blett
  • Arthur J. Gold
  • Iris Goodman
  • Lance H. Gunderson
  • Barbara M. Levinson
  • Margaret A. Palmer
  • Hans W. Paerl
  • Garry D. Peterson
  • N. LeRoy Poff
  • David W. Rejeski
  • James F. Reynolds
  • Monica G. Turner
  • Kathleen C. Weathers
  • John Wiens
Mini Review

Abstract

An ecological threshold is the point at which there is an abrupt change in an ecosystem quality, property or phenomenon, or where small changes in an environmental driver produce large responses in the ecosystem. Analysis of thresholds is complicated by nonlinear dynamics and by multiple factor controls that operate at diverse spatial and temporal scales. These complexities have challenged the use and utility of threshold concepts in environmental management despite great concern about preventing dramatic state changes in valued ecosystems, the need for determining critical pollutant loads and the ubiquity of other threshold-based environmental problems. In this paper we define the scope of the thresholds concept in ecological science and discuss methods for identifying and investigating thresholds using a variety of examples from terrestrial and aquatic environments, at ecosystem, landscape and regional scales. We end with a discussion of key research needs in this area.

Keywords

thresholds multiple stable states critical loads panarchy ecological surprises ecological modeling 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter M. Groffman
    • 1
  • Jill S. Baron
    • 2
  • Tamara Blett
    • 3
  • Arthur J. Gold
    • 4
  • Iris Goodman
    • 5
  • Lance H. Gunderson
    • 6
  • Barbara M. Levinson
    • 5
  • Margaret A. Palmer
    • 7
  • Hans W. Paerl
    • 8
  • Garry D. Peterson
    • 9
  • N. LeRoy Poff
    • 10
  • David W. Rejeski
    • 1
  • James F. Reynolds
    • 12
  • Monica G. Turner
    • 13
  • Kathleen C. Weathers
    • 1
  • John Wiens
    • 14
  1. 1.Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  2. 2.Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, US Geological SurveyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Air Resources DivisionUSDI-National Park ServiceDenverUSA
  4. 4.Department of Natural Resources Science, 105 Coastal Institute in KingstonUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA
  5. 5.US Environmental Protection Agency HeadquartersWashingtonUSA
  6. 6.Department of Environmental StudiesEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  7. 7.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  8. 8.Institute of Marine SciencesUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillMorehead CityUSA
  9. 9.Center for LimnologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  10. 10.Department of BiologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  11. 11.Woodrow Wilson International Center for ScholarsWashingtonUSA
  12. 12.Department of BiologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  13. 13.Department of ZoologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  14. 14.The Nature ConservancyArlingtonUSA

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