Reinette (Oonsie)



Theme leader, Regime shifts in social-ecological systems

+46 737 078 598



Staff profile

Dr Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs is a Society in Science Fellow funded by the Branco Weiss foundation. She is also a Research Fellow in the Centre for Studies in Complexity at Stellenbosch University in South Africa

Profile summary

  • Her research focuses on regime shifts — large, abrupt, long-lasting changes that can have dramatic impacts on human economies and societies
  • She initiated and co-leads the Southern African Program on Ecosystem change and Society, a network of leading social-ecological researchers working in southern Africa
  • She has authored or co-authored over 30 scientific articles and 20 book chapters

Her research focuses on regime shifts — large, abrupt, long-lasting changes in the dynamics of coupled social-ecological systems that can have dramatic impacts on human economies and societies. Dr Biggs aims to contribute practical scientific theory, methods and insights that can improve society's ability to anticipate high-impact tipping points, and build resilience to undesirable changes. Her core research activities focus on the following key areas:

- Developing a Regime Shifts Database to provide a high-quality synthesis of different types of regime shifts that have been documented in social-ecological systems, their impacts on ecosystem services, and management options.

- Developing methods for assessing which areas on Earth are most vulnerable to particular regime shifts, using GIS and remote sensing methods.

- Examining the economic trade-offs associated with balancing the risk of potential regime shifts against the benefits of ecosystem exploitation, in collaboration with researchers at the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics.

Dr Biggs also initiated and co-leads the Southern African Program on Ecosystem change and Society, a network of leading social-ecological researchers working in southern Africa to develop new theory and tools and grow capacity in the SES field, and one of the core case studies within the ICSU Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS).

Dr Biggs completed her PhD studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008. Her thesis Uncertainty, learning and innovation in ecosystem managemen included the use of Hierarchical Bayesian Models to show how uncertainties about the nature of ecological relationships may be highlighted by integrating results from multiple studies.

Another aspect of her dissertation work focused on the question of whether regime shifts can be detected (through approaches such as increasing variance) with sufficient lead time to change management in ways that avert undesirable regime shifts.

She also investigated, using social science methodologies, factors that encourage innovation and transformation in ecosystem management based on case studies in South Africa, Wisconsin and Sweden.

Prior to her PhD studies, Dr Biggs spent four years at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria, South Africa, working on the Southern African Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

She was particularly involved in the scenario planning aspects of the assessment, as well as issues of cross-scale links. Her Masters thesis, which was tied to the Millennium Assessment, involved the development of a new policy-relevant indicator for assessing biodiversity condition, namely the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), published in Nature in 2005.

Dr Biggs has authored or co-authored over 30 scientific articles and 20 book chapters.

Biggs, Oonsie

Publications by Biggs, Oonsie

An introduction to the resilience approach and principles to sustain ecosystem services in social-ecological systems

Biggs, R. (Oonsie), M. Schlüter, M.L. Schoon

2015 - Book chapter

A major challenge of the twenty-first century is ensuring an adequate and reliable flow of essential ecosystem services to meet the needs of the world's burgeoning and increasingly wealthy population. This challenge needs to be addressed in the face of rapidly changin social, technological and environmental conditions that characterize the world today. Social-ecological resilience is one fast-growing approach that attempts to inform this challenge and provide practical guidance to decision-makers and practitiones. The resilience approach views humans as part of the biosphere, and assumes that the resulting intertwined social-ecological systems behave as complex as adaptive systems - i.e. they have the capacity to self organize and adapt based on past experience, and are characterized by emergent and non-linear behaviour and inherent uncertainty. A rapidly growing body of research on resilience in social-ecological systems has proposed a variety of attributes that are important for enhancing resilience. This book aims to critically assess and synthesize this literature. In this chapter we introduce the resilience approach and the process by which we identified seven feneric principles for enhancing the capacity of social-ecological systems to produce desired sets of ecosystem services in the face of disturbance and change.

Principle 3 Manage slow variables and feedbacks

Biggs, R. (Oonsie), L.J. Gordon, C. Raudsepp-Hearne, M. Schlüter, B. Walker

2015 - Book chapter

Many social-ecological systems can exist in different self-organizing configurations or 'regimes'. Each of these configurations produces a different set of ecosystem services, with different consequences for different users. Changes in controlling slow variables can cause a system to shift from one regime to another if certain thresholds are exceeded and there is a change in dominat feedback processes in the social-ecological system. Such shifts are often associated with large, rapid changes in ecosystem services, and can have substantial impacts on human societies. In other cases, feedbacks may trap a system in a regime that produces a very limited set of desired ecosystem services, and make it very difficult to shift the system to a different configuration. The importance of managing slow variables and feedbacks to maintain social-ecological regimes that produce desired bundles of ecosystem services, restore social-ecological systems to more desired configurations or transform the systems to entirely new configurations is widely acknowledged in the resilience literature. However, identifying and managing key slow variables and feedbacks to avoid system thresholds or facilitate systemic transformations is often difficult in practice. Maintaining regulating ecosystem services as a proxy for managing slow variables may be one practical way forward. Other strategies focus on better understanding slow variables and feedbacks that underlie different social-ecological configurations, monitoring changes in slow variables and feedbacks, managing the strength of feedbacks and adressing missing feedbacks between drivers and impacts on ecosystem services.

Biggs, Oonsie

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