NCEAS Project 2100

Early warning of discontinuous changes in ecosystem state: Myth, reality, or somewhere in between?

  • Kathryn L. Cottingham

ActivityDatesFurther Information
Postdoctoral Fellow1st August 1996—1st September 1998Participant List  


Humans depend on ecological systems for a variety of services. These services are threatened by anthropogenic perturbations that may cause sudden, discontinuous changes in ecosystem state. Consequently, management and regulatory agencies have invested a great deal of effort in developing early warning indicators for these discontinuous changes. However, the theoretical and empirical basis for such indicators is not well developed. I propose to use simulation modeling and literature analysis to test the hypothesis that reliable early warning indicators of discontinuous change do not exist. If affirmed, this hypothesis suggests that the effects of increasing human impacts on ecosystems may not be reliably anticipated. If rejected, this hypothesis suggests that a sound basis for environmental indicators can be developed. Regardless of the outcome, this research will expand our understanding of ecosystem response to anthropogenic perturbations.

TypeProducts of NCEAS Research
Report or White Paper Cottingham, Kathryn L. 1997. Parallel responses to whole-lake experiments: evidence for multiple attractors in zooplankton communities. (Online version)
Report or White Paper Cottingham, Kathryn L. 1997. Report of progress and activities in prior appointment period. (Online version)
Journal Article Cottingham, Kathryn L. 1998. Nutrients and zooplankton as multiple stressors of phytoplankton communities: Evidence from size structure. Limnology and Oceanography. Vol: 44. Pages 810-827.
Journal Article Cottingham, Kathryn L.; Carpenter, Stephen R. 1998. Population, community, and ecosystem variates as ecological indicators: Phytoplankton responses to whole-lake enrichment. Ecological Applications. Vol: 8(2). Pages 508-530.
Report or White Paper Cottingham, Kathryn L. 1998. Report of progress and activities in appointment period: Sept. 1997 - July 1998. (Online version)
Journal Article Cottingham, Kathryn L.; Carpenter, Stephen R.; St. Amand, A. 1998. Responses of epilimnetic phytoplankton to experimental nutrient enrichment in three small seepage lakes. Journal of Plankton Research. Vol: 20. Pages 1889-1914.
Journal Article Cottingham, Kathryn L.; Schindler, Daniel E. 2000. Effects of grazer community structure on phytoplankton response to nutrient pulses. Ecology. Vol: 81. Pages 183-200.
Journal Article Cottingham, Kathryn L.; Rusak, James A.; Leavitt, Peter R. 2000. Increased ecosystem variability and reduced predictability following fertilisation: Evidence from palaeolimnology. Ecology Letters. Vol: 3. Pages 340-348.
Journal Article Cottingham, Kathryn L. 2002. Tackling biocomplexity: The role of people, tools, and scale. BioScience. Vol: 52(9). Pages 793-799.
Journal Article Gram, Wendy K.; Borer, Elizabeth T.; Cottingham, Kathryn L.; Seabloom, Eric; Boucher, V.; Goldwasser, Lloyd; Micheli, Fiorenza; Kendall, Bruce E.; Burton, Rebecca S. 2004. Distribution of plants in a California serpentine grassland: Are rocky hummocks spatial refuges for native species?. Plant Ecology. Vol: 172. Pages 159-171.
Journal Article Jackson, Leland J.; Trebitz, Anett S.; Cottingham, Kathryn L. 2000. An introduction to the practice of ecological modeling. BioScience. Vol: 50(8). Pages 694-706.
Journal Article Micheli, Fiorenza; Cottingham, Kathryn L.; Bascompte, Jordi; Bjornstad, Ottar N.; Eckert, Ginny; Fischer, Janet; Keitt, Timothy H.; Kendall, Bruce E.; Klug, Jen; Rusak, James A. 1999. The dual nature of community variability. Oikos. Vol: 85. Pages 161-169.
Journal Article Rusak, James A.; Yan, Norman; Somers, K.; Cottingham, Kathryn L.; Micheli, Fiorenza; Carpenter, Stephen R.; Frost, Thomas M.; Paterson, Michael; McQueen, D. 2002. Temporal, spatial, and taxonomic patterns of crustacean zooplankton variability in unmanipulated north-temperate lakes. Limnology and Oceanography. Vol: 47. Pages 613-625.
Journal Article Seabloom, Eric; Borer, Elizabeth T.; Boucher, V.; Burton, Rebecca S.; Cottingham, Kathryn L.; Goldwasser, Lloyd; Gram, Wendy K.; Kendall, Bruce E.; Micheli, Fiorenza. 2003. Competition, seed limitation, disturbance, and reestablishment of California native annual forbs. Ecological Applications. Vol: 13(3). Pages 575-592.