Non-linear changes in modelled terrestrial ecosystems subjected to perturbations

Newbold, Tim, Tittensor, Derek P, Harfoot, Michael B J, Scharlemann, Jörn P W and Purves, Drew W (2020) Non-linear changes in modelled terrestrial ecosystems subjected to perturbations. Scientific Reports, 10. a14051. ISSN 2045-2322

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Abstract

Perturbed ecosystems may undergo rapid and non-linear changes, resulting in ‘regime shifts’ to an entirely different ecological state. The need to understand the extent, nature, magnitude and reversibility of these changes is urgent given the profound effects that humans are having on the natural world. General ecosystem models, which simulate the dynamics of ecosystems based on a mechanistic representation of ecological processes, provide one novel way to project ecosystem changes across all scales and trophic levels, and to forecast impact thresholds beyond which irreversible changes may occur. We model ecosystem changes in four terrestrial biomes subjected to human removal of plant biomass, such as occurs through agricultural land-use change. We find that irreversible, non-linear responses commonly occur where removal of vegetation exceeds 80% (a level that occurs across nearly 10% of the Earth’s land surface), especially for organisms at higher trophic levels and in less productive ecosystems. Very large, irreversible changes to ecosystem structure are expected at levels of vegetation removal akin to those in the most intensively used real-world ecosystems. Our results suggest that the projected twenty-first century rapid increases in agricultural land conversion may lead to widespread trophic cascades and in some cases irreversible changes to ecosystem structure.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Evolution, Behaviour and Environment
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 08 Sep 2020 06:51
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2020 07:00
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/93609

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