Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 359–372 | Cite as

Regime shifts in a social-ecological system

  • Steven J. Lade
  • Alessandro Tavoni
  • Simon A. Levin
  • Maja Schlüter
Original Paper


Ecological regime shifts are rarely purely ecological. Not only is the regime shift frequently triggered by human activity, but the responses of relevant actors to ecological dynamics are often crucial to the development and even existence of the regime shift. Here, we show that the dynamics of human behaviour in response to ecological changes can be crucial in determining the overall dynamics of the system. We find a social–ecological regime shift in a model of harvesters of a common-pool resource who avoid over-exploitation of the resource by social ostracism of non-complying harvesters. The regime shift, which can be triggered by several different drivers individually or also in combination, consists of a breakdown of the social norm, sudden collapse of co-operation and an over-exploitation of the resource. We use the approach of generalized modeling to study the robustness of the regime shift to uncertainty over the specific forms of model components such as the ostracism norm and the resource dynamics. Importantly, the regime shift in our model does not occur if the dynamics of harvester behaviour are not included in the model. Finally, we sketch some possible early warning signals for the social–ecological regime shifts we observe in the models.


Regime shifts Tipping points Early warning signals Bifurcation Generalized modelling social–ecological system 



The authors would like to thank Oonsie Biggs, Ralf Eichhorn, Carl Folke, Thilo Gross, Jamila Haider, Juan Carlos Rocha and Nanda Wijermans for helpful comments on the manuscript. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Unions Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement no. 283950 SES-LINK and a core grant to the Stockholm Resilience Centre by Mistra.. AT is supported by the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, which is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and Munich Re. SAL was supported by National Science Foundation grants EF-1137894 and GEO-1211972.

Supplementary material

12080_2013_187_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (56 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven J. Lade
    • 1
    • 2
  • Alessandro Tavoni
    • 3
  • Simon A. Levin
    • 4
  • Maja Schlüter
    • 1
  1. 1.Stockholm Resilience CentreStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  2. 2.NORDITAKTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Grantham Research InstituteLondon School of EconomicsLondonUK
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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