Living dangerously on borrowed time during slow, unrecognized regime shifts

T.P. Hughes, P.J. Linares-Palomino, V. Dakos, I.A. van de Leemput, E.H. van Nes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

190 Citations (Scopus)


Regime shifts from one ecological state to another are often portrayed as sudden, dramatic, and difficult to reverse. Yet many regime shifts unfold slowly and imperceptibly after a tipping point has been exceeded, especially at regional and global scales. These long, smooth transitions between equilibrium states are easy to miss, ignore, or deny, confounding management and governance. However, slow responses by ecosystems after transgressing a dangerous threshold also affords borrowed time - a window of opportunity to return to safer conditions before the new state eventually locks in and equilibrates. In this context, the most important challenge is a social one: convincing enough people to confront business-as-usual before time runs out to reverse unwanted regime shifts even after they have already begun
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-155
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • climate-change
  • coral-reef
  • ocean acidification
  • ecological-systems
  • community dynamics
  • early warnings
  • phase-shifts
  • ecosystem
  • lag
  • biodiversity

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