Advances in Understanding and Managing Catastrophic Ecosystem Shifts in Mediterranean Ecosystems

Related GLP Member: Diana Sietz

One of the most challenging issues in Mediterranean ecosystems to date has been to understand the emergence of discontinuous changes or catastrophic shifts. In the era of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which encompass ideas around Land Degradation Neutrality, advancing this understanding has become even more critical and urgent. The aim of this paper is to synthesize insights into the drivers, processes and management of catastrophic shifts to highlight ways forward for the management of Mediterranean ecosystems. We use a multidisciplinary approach that extends beyond the typical single site, single scale, single approach studies in the current literature. We link applied and theoretical ecology at multiple scales with analyses and modeling of human–environment–climate relations and stakeholder engagement in six field sites in Mediterranean ecosystems to address three key questions:

i) How do major degradation drivers affect ecosystem functioning and services in Mediterranean ecosystems?

ii) What processes happen in the soil and vegetation during a catastrophic shift?

iii) How can management of vulnerable ecosystems be optimized using these findings?

Drawing together the findings from the use of different approaches allows us to address the whole pipeline of changes from drivers through to action. We highlight ways to assess ecosystem vulnerability that can help to prevent ecosystem shifts to undesirable states; identify cost-effective management measures that align with the vision and plans of land users; and evaluate the timing of these measures to enable optimization of their application before thresholds are reached. Such a multidisciplinary approach enables improved identification of early warning signals for discontinuous changes informing more timely and cost-effective management, allowing anticipation of, adaptation to, or even prevention of, undesirable catastrophic ecosystem shifts.

Keywords: dryland ecosystems, ecosystem restoration, multidisciplinary, resilience, stakeholder engagement recommendations

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