Empirical pressure-response relations can benefit assessment of safe operating spaces
In a recent study, Hillebrand et al. tested ecosystem pressure-response data from multiple meta-analyses for multimodality and changing variance, both indicators of ‘tipping point’ thresholds that lead to discontinuous responses such as regime shifts.
They found that such thresholds were difficult to detect and argued that threshold and safe operating space concepts are therefore not suitable for environmental management and policy.
We find the results of their analysis, however, to be consistent with the current scientific understanding of thresholds that (1) many ecosystems have thresholds that lead to non-linear dynamics such as regime shifts and (2) awareness of the risks associated with such thresholds can help inform environmental management, even when the positions of these thresholds are uncertain. We then discuss (3) how safe operating space concepts relate to threshold concepts.
In fact, (4) the approach of Hillebrand et al. could strengthen the empirical basis for assessments of safe operating spaces. We now elaborate on these four points.
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