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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Variables

Variable TypeCategorical
Variable Component TypeNatural Resource Unit, Natural Resource System
Variable KindInteraction
ThemeOutcomes (learn about themes)
ProjectsSESMAD, Fiji fisheries
QuestionDoes this natural resource show evidence of switching stable states during this snapshot? If not, is the current stable state considered to be in a desirable / undesirable state? If yes, is the new stable state considered to be desirable / undesirable?
Select OptionsYes desirable, Yes undesirable, No desirable, No undesirable, Unclear - system may be transitioning, N/A
ImportanceResilience theory broadly suggests that natural systems exhibit shifts between two or more stable states, or basins of attraction (Walker et al. 2004). The goal of resource management from this perspective is to maintain relevant properties around desirable stable states.

"One primary difference between resilience and robustness is the strong connection between resilience and other concepts such as attractors, states, steady states, stability domains, domains of attraction, basins of attraction, regimes, and equilibria, none of which are referenced frequently by literature on system robustness. The concept of a system state is a fundamental as any associated with resilience. Walker et al. (2002, 5) describe the state of a system in the following way: ""The ‘state’ of a system at a particular instant in time is the collection of values of the state variables at that time…In complex systems whose description requires many state variables, the term ‘state’ is loosely used to describe a characteristic of the system, rather than its state. For example, the lake is in a eutrophic ‘state’, or the rangeland is in a shrub-dominated ‘state.’ Such a loose definition is acceptable in everyday situations, but not when we want to analyze a system more carefully."" What we commonly refer to as a system ―state‖, (ex. a lake being eutrophic), actually represents a whole collection of states, or a particular set of state variable values. A state variable is simply a variable whose values help to characterize the present state of the system at a particular period of time. In a dynamical system, the evolution of each state variable is described via a differential or difference equation, and the equation for one variable frequently contains other state variables. It was this approach to systems analysis—formalization through differential equations—that originally led scholars to observe the theoretical possibility of multiple equilibria (or attractors in mathematical terms, also referred to as steady states) in complex systems (Holling 1973). The set of states that leads to this attractor is referred to as a basin of attraction (or domain of attraction)"

The Regime Shift Database (http://www.regimeshifts.org) can help scholars compare similar systems to identify whether their system could have multiple stable states, whether a shift has occurred and whether the new state is desirable / undesirable. As per the definition above, stable states or domains of attraction are comprised of multiple 'state variables'. A 'stable state' in resilience science does not simply refer to the condition of a system. E.g., a degraded or degrading system is not necessarily in an undesirable stable state until it has crossed a threshold and transitioned / flipped to a new stable state, in which case feedbacks would reinforce the new state (i.e., the system would show no/limited recovery even if human impacts were reduced). Examples of variable use:The Great Barrier Reef has not crossed a threshold into an alternative stable state and largely remains in a coral-dominated state = No, desirable. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna stocks are in an undesirable stable state suggested by evidence that stocks are not recovering despite reduced exploitation. However, the shift to this state did not occur during the current government regime but under a previous regime = No, undesirable


Theory Usages

TheoryValue Used
Openness and general resilienceYes, undesirable
Modularity and general resilienceNo, Desirable
Metric diversity, biodiversity loss and resilienceYes undesirable
Social memory and general resilienceNo desirable
Feedbacks and general resilienceNo desirable
Conditions for general resilienceNo Desirable
Social diversity and general resilienceNo Desirable
Ecological memory, Reserves and General ResilienceNo, Desirable

Associated Studies

Study Citation

Holling, C S. 1973. “Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems.” Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 4: 1–23.

Walker, Brian, C S Holling, Stephen R Carpenter, and Ann Kinzig. 2004. “Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social-Ecological Systems.” Ecology and Society 2: 5

Case Usages

CaseInteraction TypeComponentValue UsedExplanation
Forests in IndonesiaGovernanceForests in Indonesia0Forest cover declined continuously during this period, so it does not really make sense to think of it as being in any kind of a basin during this period.
Forests in IndonesiaGovernanceForests in Indonesia0The state of the system seemed to be in continuous decline, not a stable state.
Galapagos Marine ReserveBiophysicalGalapagos Sea Cucumber 
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (ICCAT)GovernanceWestern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna 0Switch occurred prior to 1985, the start date of this interaction.
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (ICCAT)GovernanceEastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna0
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (ICCAT)GovernanceEastern Atlantic Bluefin TunaNo undesirable
Montreal ProtocolBiophysicalOzoneMissing
Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR)GovernanceGalapagos Sea CucumberYes undesirableThe population has declined by >80% and is now economically extinct. In terms of the overall system this does not appear to have had a major impact as there is another sea cucumber in the Galapagos that is not fished/targetted to continue the ecological role (e.g. nutrient cycling).
Wakatobi National Park GovernanceWakatobi Green TurtleNot Applicable
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) Marine National MonumentGovernanceNWHI Lobster FisheryNo undesirableNo basin switch in this time period - sharp declines occured prior to this time period (87% decline in CPUE between 1983 and 1999 - IUCN RedList). Coded as undesirable as the population remains low.
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) Marine National MonumentGovernanceNWHI Trophic DensityNo desirableHigh trophic levels and considered a near pristine ecosystem. >54% of the total fish biomass on forereef habitats in the NWHI consisted of apex predators (DeMartini and Friedlander, 2004).
Community A (Fiji fisheries)GovernanceCommunity A Fish ResourcesMissing
Central California National Marine Sanctuaries GovernanceCalifornia Groundfish HabitatNo desirableSome species have been slowly recovering, but no clear system state switch. Some species are still not recovering, however, a number of species have been documented to be increasing and those which have not are thought to be long-lived species which require greater time to recover.
Svalbard Nature ReservesGovernanceSvalbard Polar Bear The current state (polar bears present) is considered desirable.
Heard and McDonald Islands Marine ReserveGovernanceLight Mantled AlbatrossMissingThere is no evidence of a basin switch for this species
Heard and McDonald Islands Marine ReserveGovernanceKing PenguinNo desirableKing Penguins were potentially extirpated at HIMI in the 1800s, but then recolonized (three were discovered in 1947) and recovered. From the first count in 1947 (3) to the last count in 2004 (~80,000), they were estimated to show a trend of doubling population size every five years with no sign of slowing down (Woehler 2006). Since there have been no counts since 2004, it is not clear if they are in a stable state yet. Qualitative counts (Heritage Expeditions 2012) and expert opinion (E. Woehler pers. comm.) suggests they are likely still increasing. Original population sizes are unknown.
Svalbard Nature ReservesGovernanceSvalbard KittiwakeNo desirableOn average kittiwake populations appear stable for this snap shot on Svalbard.
Community D (Fiji Fisheries)GovernanceCommunity D Fish ResourcesMissing
Seaflower MPAGovernanceSeaflower groupersUnclear - system may be transitioningThe abundance of groupers in 2014 is considerably lower when compared to 2000; furthermore, given the decreasing coral cover the situation does not seem to be good.
Cenderwasih National ParkGovernanceCenderwasih coral coverNo desirableCoral reefs appear in fairly good state, and has recovered from bleaching event in 2010/11
New Zealand squidGovernanceArrow Squid (Nototodarus spp.)No desirableSame state throughout time, no evidence of change.
Gili Trawangan Coastal TourismGovernanceCoral reefs, coast and small-island on and surrounding Gili Trawangan, IndonesiaUnclear - system may be transitioning
Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica fisheries governanceGovernanceGulf of Nicoya fisheriesMissing
Great Barrier Reef Marine ParkGovernanceGBR coral cover0But there is evidence that coral reefs do switch states, and hence there is concern about the health of coral reefs. This was part of the impetus for implementing the GBRMP
Great Barrier Reef Marine ParkGovernanceGBR coral coverNo desirableBut there is evidence that coral reefs do switch states, and hence there is concern about the health of coral reefs.
Montreal ProtocolBiophysicalOzoneMissing
Great Barrier Reef Marine ParkGovernanceGBR target fish0
Great Barrier Reef Marine ParkGovernanceGBR target fishNo desirableTarget fish are doing fairly well. The whole coral reef system, however, has the potential to switch states from reef-dominated (desirable) to algal dominated (undesirable). This has happened in some small parts of the reef.
Macquarie Island Marine ParkGovernancePatagonian Toothfish No desirableAlthough stocks have declined, they remain within a desirable range above 50% of unfished levels.
Macquarie Island Marine ParkGovernanceLight Mantled AlbatrossMissingThere is no evidence of a basin switch for this species
Macquarie Island Marine ParkGovernanceMacquarie Island Royal PenguinNo desirableThe population has remained stable based on all estimates, and near its estimated peaks.
Wakatobi National Park GovernanceWakatobi coral coverNo desirableNo evidence of switching stable states although there were major declines in coral cover detected before this snapshot - still coded as desirable because coral reefs considered to be in relatively good health (McMellor and Smith 2010). Declines in hard coral cover and increase in coral rubble reported 2002-2007 (McMellor and Smith 2010)
Wakatobi National Park GovernanceWakatobi fish spawningNo desirablePopulations of spawning fish at a low level, and prior to this snapshot there were large declines in fish biomass but there is no evidence of switching states (i.e. it is not a algal dominated system) - so although fish populations appear to be in a degraded state they have not corssed a threshold.
Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR)GovernanceGalapagos Green TurtleNo desirableLareg population of green turtles in Galapagos and thought to be stable
Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR)GovernanceGalapagos SharksNo desirableNo evidence of switching states, and overall Galapagos still considered home to relatively healthy shark populations
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) Marine National MonumentGovernanceNWHI Green TurtleNo desirablePopulation increasing
Central California National Marine Sanctuaries GovernanceCalifornia Humpback WhaleYes desirableThe humpback whale population has increased, to the point of potentially being unlisted from the ESA, and to being Least Concern for IUCN redlist. In the 1970s, humpback populations were listed under the ESA, in 1986 was Endangered by the IUCN and in 1990 was Vulnerable by the IUCN. This change is desirable, but debatable if this is stable or not.
Central California National Marine Sanctuaries GovernanceCalifornia Rocky Shores Ecosystem HealthNo desirableIn 2010, the coastal environment was rated to be good/fair and not changing (GFNMS Condition Report, 2010). The habitat has experienced fluctuating conditions, however, most notably a decline in health from the Sea Star Wasting Syndrome and withering syndrome for abalone. The 2009 MBNMS Condition Report showed that rocky shore habitats were fair and there was an undetermined trend in conditions. Poaching had reduced overall biodiversity at some rocky shores locations. Community-level impacts on rocky shores were felt from low abundance of key species (MBNMS Condition Report, 2009). However, broadly speaking, the habitat is in good condition during the end of this snapshot and "monitoring programs indicate healthy populations and no major perturbations" (MBNMS Condition Report, 2009).
Community B (Fiji Fisheries)GovernanceCommunity B Fish ResourcesMissing
Community C (Fiji Fisheries)GovernanceCommunity C Fish ResourcesMissing
Raja Ampat (National Act No. 32 2004)GovernanceRaja Ampat Coral CoverNo desirableConsidered a healthy marine ecosystem
Community E (Fiji Fisheries)GovernanceCommunity E Fish ResourcesMissing
Raja Ampat (National Act No. 32 2004)GovernanceRaja Ampat Green TurtleNo desirableOverall considered a healthy ecosystem with fairly high numbers of green turtles
Raja Ampat (National Act No. 32 2004)GovernanceRaja Ampat Reef Fish No desirableFish communities are generally considered to be fairly healthy, but there is evidence of overfishing with an absence of higher trophic species (Purwanto et al. 2012)
Community F (Fiji Fisheries)GovernanceCommunity F Fish ResourcesMissing
Great Australian Bight Marine Park (GABMP) (Commonwealth Waters)GovernanceGABMP (Commonwealth Waters) Southern Right WhaleNo desirableThe population of Southern Right Whales has increased since the severe depletion by commercial whaling. The population is increasing and has been coded as desirable (although populations are comparatively low to historic levels), but there is no evidence of switching stable states during this time period as major declines and the population increase have also occurred outside of the snapshot being coded.
Svalbard Nature ReservesGovernanceSvalbard ShrimpNo desirableBiomass estimates fluctuate substantially, but literature does not suggest changing of stable states, and the shrimp stock in the Barents Sea has been at a relatively high level since 2005
Great Australian Bight Marine Park (GABMP) (Commonwealth Waters)GovernanceGABMP (Commonwealth Waters) Southern Bluefin TunaNo undesirableSBT population has dramatically declined to 7–15% of the 1960 parental biomass (FSC 2009). Worldwide reported landings peaked in 1969, and have since gradually declined. Catches from 1992 to 2006 have been relatively stable (FAO 2009). Populations are considered overfished (critically endangered on IUCN RedList), but not considered to have changed stable states as the more dramatic declines occurred before this snapshot.
Seaflower MPAGovernanceSeaflower coral reefsNo undesirableThere is definitely indication that there is a shift toward algae-dominated reefs but I am not sure if the system transitioned into a new stable state. In any case the current state is undesirable.
Great Barrier Reef Marine ParkGovernanceGBR Green TurtleNo desirableCommercial harvesting of green turtles in southern Queensland ended in 1950. the population has undergone significant declines and is not thought to be back at pre-harvest levels, but has shown a general trend of improving so is not considered to have changed stable states.
Heard and McDonald Islands Marine ReserveGovernancePatagonian Toothfish No desirableNo evidence of a basin switch or of a change in the stock. There is interannual variation in the catch from year to year, but this may have less to do with a population trend and more a result of fishing techniques shifting from being predominantly trawling to being predominantly longlining over the time of the snapshot (see CCAMLR 2013).
Great Australian Bight Marine Park (GABMP) (Commonwealth Waters)GovernanceGABMP (Commonwealth Waters) Sea LionNo undesirableThe high proportion of small, genetically isolated subpopulations for this species is likely a consequence of sequential declines brought about by historical sealing, more recent takes, and sustained fisheries bycatch over the last 40+ years. The population is low so coded as undesirable, but not as having switch basins during this time period as the largest population declines took place outside of this snap shot.
Community G (Fiji Fisheries)GovernanceCommunity G Fish ResourcesMissing
Community H (Fiji Fisheries)GovernanceCommunity H Fish ResourcesMissing
Cenderwasih National ParkGovernanceCenderwasih target fishNo desirableDespite fishing pressure, the fish appear to be in a fairly healthy state and tehre is no evidence of a change in stable states.
Falkland Islands squidGovernancePatagonian squid (Loligo gahi)No desirableState has stayed desirable (no crashes, no major fishery closures) and has not changed much. Governance was preventative. Fluctuates up and down.
California squidGovernanceCalifornia market squid (Loligo opalescens)No desirableFishery goes through many fluctuations, not state changes.
Pond aquaculture on Lombok, IndonesiaGovernanceLombok aquaculture irrigation canalsNot Applicable
Pond aquaculture on Lombok, IndonesiaGovernanceLombok aquaculture irrigation canals 
Caete-Teperacu Extractive Reserve (RESEX) in Braganca, BrazilGovernanceMangrove forest in Bragança, BrazilMissing