Management in Practice

Following a global review of management responses to ecological thresholds, we share stories of tipping point management in practice

In order to assess what works and what doesn't in the management of systems that are prone to tipping points, our team analyzed 51 social-ecological systems from around the world - each with documented ecological thresholds. The case studies we examined ranged from marine to freshwater to terrestrial systems. Drawing on the scientific and gray literature and conversations with managers, Ocean Tipping Points researchers asked what was known about the tipping point, how management responded, and what the outcomes have been. In their Management Review they present the characteristics of tipping point management that tend to lead more often to success - either in reversing or preventing a system from crossing a tipping point.

Here we highlight some of their case studies to help tell the real world stories of tipping point management.

Ecosystem tipping points around the world

Ecosystems ranging from tropical coral reefs to temperate kelp forests and from terrestrial fire-prone landscapes to agricultural systems have all experienced ecological tipping points, when a small shift in human pressures or environmental conditions brings about large, sometimes abrupt changes in a system. Here, we present 10 examples:

What are we learning

Understanding the science that drives an ecosystem toward a tipping point can help managers make decisions that increase the chances of avoiding or reversing potential tipping points. In our  Management Review, we found that:

  1. Threshold management works. More explicit use of thresholds in management is strongly associated with better environmental outcomes.
  2. Responsive monitoring is key. Good outcomes are also associated with routine monitoring requirements in both retrospective and prospective cases.
  3. Scale matters. Threshold-based systems with smaller geographic areas are more likely to have good management outcomes.

Learn more about the Ocean Tipping Points project here or explore the management review case study examples from the menu on the right.