Mechanisms for marine regime shifts: can we use lakes as microcosms for oceans?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Although striking regime shifts have been observed in marine systems, mechanistic explanations for these. phenomena remain scarce. Here, we review studies of regime shifts in lakes and compare them to what has been found in marine systems to explore the extent to which lakes can be viewed as microcosms for studying essential ecosystem feedbacks in marine systems. We conclude that despite obvious differences, which have been discussed by several authors, lakes are in fact quite similar to oceans in many aspects. In particular, similar mechanisms may be involved in causing alternative attractors (and thus a tendency to show occasional regime shifts) in both systems. A striking similarity exists between the mechanisms that may have caused massive marine anoxic events in the distant past, and the shift of many deep lakes to a mode of anoxic phosphorus recycling. Biotic interactions are relatively poorly understood in the oceans. However, based on what we know from lakes, we expect competitive interactions and diffuse multi-species interactions to be a common cause of alternative attractors in marine communities. In addition, overexploitation traps are an obvious cause of multiple attractors to be expected in the oceans. These should not be limited to direct effects of human overexploitation. Shifts between overexploited and under-exploited states may happen at various trophic levels. Finally, we conclude from observed patterns and theoretical results that implications of alternative attractors will be quite different in benthic and open ocean systems. Benthic regime shifts might happen easily but can be relatively local. By contrast, open ocean shifts might not arise so easily but tend to be impressive in magnitude and scale when they happen. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-319
JournalProgress in Oceanography
Issue number2-4
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • alternate stable states
  • grazing systems
  • sediment resuspension
  • submerged macrophytes
  • empirical-evidence
  • trophic cascades
  • phase-shifts
  • clear-water
  • sea otters
  • fish


Dive into the research topics of 'Mechanisms for marine regime shifts: can we use lakes as microcosms for oceans?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this