Professor, Environmental Sciences

Theme leader, Regime shifts and implications in social-ecological systems
Head of Subject in Sustainability Science

+46 737 078 592



Staff profile

Garry Peterson is a Professor in Environmental Sciences, Theme Leader in Regime shifts and implications in social-ecological systems, and Head of Subject in Sustainability Science at the centre

Profile summary

Dr. Peterson has a degree in Systems Design Engineering for the University of Waterloo, Canada and received a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Florida in 1999

He is a board member of the Resilience Alliance, subject editor for Ecology and Society, and was a coordinating lead author for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

He has authored or co- authored over 30 scientific articles and 25 book chapters

Garry Peterson is Professor in Environmental Sciences with key focus on resilience in social-ecological systems.

While people depend upon the benefits they receive from nature, our actions are undercutting the ability of nature to produce these benefits.  

Dr. Peterson's research addresses this problem by working to improve people's ability to ensure a reliable supply of the ecosystem services that support human well-being.  He uses complex systems theory, spatial analysis, and the synthesis of social and ecological data, to develop theory and practical understanding that people can use to better manage the ecosystems they live within.

His specific research areas are:
1) understanding of how abrupt changes can occur in social- ecological systems

2) interactions among ecosystem services over time and across space

3) connecting quantitative models and narrative based scenario planning

Dr. Peterson has a degree in Systems Design Engineering for the University of Waterloo, Canada and received a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Florida in 1999.  Following post-doctoral positions at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara and the Centre for Limnology at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, he has been an assistant professor jointly appointed in the Department of Geography and the McGill School of the Environment at McGill University in Canada since 2003, where he held a Canada Research Chair.

He has taught adaptive management, environmental modelling, and environmental research courses.  He has been at the Stockholm Resilience Centre since summer 2008.  He also has a 20% position in Physical Geography at Stockholm University.

He is a board member of the Resilience Alliance, subject editor for Ecology and Society, and was a coordinating lead author for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  In 2008 he received the Ecological society of America's Sustainability Science. He has authored or co- authored over 30 scientific articles and 25 book chapters.


Publications by Peterson, Garry

Measuring and assessing resilience: Broadening understanding through multiple disciplinary perspectives

Quinlan, A.E., M. Berbés-Blázquez, L.J. Haider, G.D. Peterson

2015 - Journal / article

Increased interest in managing resilience has led to efforts to develop standardized tools for assessments and quantitative measures. Resilience, however, as a property of complex adaptive systems, does not lend itself easily to measurement. Whereas assessment approaches tend to focus on deepening understanding of system dynamics, resilience measurement aims to capture and quantify resilience in a rigorous and repeatable way. We discuss the strengths, limitations and trade-offs involved in both assessing and measuring resilience, as well as the relationship between the two. We use a range of disciplinary perspectives to draw lessons on distilling complex concepts into useful metrics. Measuring and monitoring a narrow set of indicators or reducing resilience to a single unit of measurement may block the deeper understanding of system dynamics needed to apply resilience thinking and inform management actions. Resilience assessment and measurement can be complementary. In both cases it is important that: (i) the approach aligns with how resilience is being defined, (ii) the application suits the specific context and (iii) understanding of system dynamics is increased. Ongoing efforts to measure resilience would benefit from the integration of key principles that have been identified for building resilience.

Regime shifts in the Anthropocene: Drivers, risks, and resilience

Rocha, J.C., G.D. Peterson, R. Biggs

2015 - Journal / article

Many ecosystems can experience regime shifts: surprising, large and persistent changes in the function and structure of ecosystems. Assessing whether continued global change will lead to further regime shifts, or has the potential to trigger cascading regime shifts has been a central question in global change policy. Addressing this issue has, however, been hampered by the focus of regime shift research on specific cases and types of regime shifts. To systematically assess the global risk of regime shifts we conducted a comparative analysis of 25 generic types of regime shifts across marine, terrestrial and polar systems; identifying their drivers, and impacts on ecosystem services. Our results show that the drivers of regime shifts are diverse and co-occur strongly, which suggests that continued global change can be expected to synchronously increase the risk of multiple regime shifts. Furthermore, many regime shift drivers are related to climate change and food production, whose links to the continued expansion of human activities makes them difficult to limit. Because many regime shifts can amplify the drivers of other regime shifts, continued global change can also be expected to increase the risk of cascading regime shifts. Nevertheless, the variety of scales at which regime shift drivers operate provides opportunities for reducing the risk of many types of regime shifts by addressing local or regional drivers, even in the absence of rapid reduction of global drivers.

Marine regime shifts: Drivers and impacts on ecosystems services

Rocha, J., J. Yletyinen, R. Biggs, T. Blenckner, G. Peterson

2015 - Journal / article

Marine ecosystems can experience regime shifts, in which they shift from being organized around one set of mutually reinforcing structures and processes to another. Anthropogenic global change has broadly increased a wide variety of processes that can drive regime shifts. To assess the vulnerability of marine ecosystems to such shifts and their potential consequences, we reviewed the scientific literature for 13 types of marine regime shifts and used networks to conduct an analysis of co-occurrence of drivers and ecosystem service impacts. We found that regime shifts are caused by multiple drivers and have multiple consequences that co-occur in a non-random pattern. Drivers related to food production, climate change and coastal development are the most common co-occurring causes of regime shifts, while cultural services, biodiversity and primary production are the most common cluster of ecosystem services affected. These clusters prioritize sets of drivers for management and highlight the need for coordinated actions across multiple drivers and scales to reduce the risk of marine regime shifts. Managerial strategies are likely to fail if they only address well-understood or data-rich variables, and international cooperation and polycentric institutions will be critical to implement and coordinate action across the scales at which different drivers operate. By better understanding these underlying patterns, we hope to inform the development of managerial strategies to reduce the risk of high-impact marine regime shifts, especially for areas of the world where data are not available or monitoring programmes are not in place.

Peterson, Garry

Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B
Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201