Regime shift

Regime shift image

Not to be confused with Regime change.

Regime shifts are large, abrupt, persistent changes in the structure and function of ecosystems, the climate, financial systems or other complex systems. A regime is a characteristic behaviour of a system which is maintained by mutually reinforced processes or feedbacks. Regimes are considered persistent relative to the time period over which the shift occurs. The change of regimes, or the shift, usually occurs when a smooth change in an internal process (feedback) or a single disturbance (external shocks) triggers a completely different system behavior. Although such non-linear changes have been widely studied in different disciplines ranging from atoms to climate dynamics, regime shifts have gained importance in ecology because they can substantially affect the flow of ecosystem services that societies rely upon, such as provision of food, clean water or climate regulation. Moreover, regime shift occurrence is expected to increase as human influence on the planet increases:– the Anthropocene:– including current trends on human induced climate change and biodiversity loss. When regime shifts are associated with a critical or bifurcation point, they may also be referred to as critical transitions.


History of the concept

Scholars have been interested in systems exhibiting non-linear change for a long time. Since the early twentieth century, mathematicians have developed a body of concepts and theory for the study of such phenomena based on the study of non-linear system dynamics. This research led to the development of concepts such as catastrophe theory; a branch of bifurcation theory in dynamical systems.

In ecology the idea of systems with multiple regimes, domai... more

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