Organic-Matter Loading Determines Regime Shifts and Alternative States in an Aquatic Ecosystem
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CitationSirota, Jennie, Benjamin Baiser, Nicholas J. Gotelli, and Aaron M. Ellison. 2013. Organic-Matter Loading Determines Regime Shifts and Alternative States in an Aquatic Ecosystem. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, no. 19: 7742–7747.
AbstractSlow changes in underlying state variables can lead to “tipping points,” rapid transitions between alternative states (“regime shifts”) in a wide range of complex systems. Tipping points and regime shifts routinely are documented retrospectively in long time series of observational data. Experimental induction of tipping points and regime shifts is rare, but could lead to new methods for detecting impending tipping points and forestalling regime shifts. By using controlled additions of detrital organic matter (dried, ground arthropod prey), we experimentally induced a shift from aerobic to anaerobic states in a miniature aquatic ecosystem: the self-contained pools that form in leaves of the carnivorous northern pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea. In unfed controls, the concentration of dissolved oxygen (\([O_2]\)) in all replicates exhibited regular diurnal cycles associated with daytime photosynthesis and nocturnal plant respiration. In low prey-addition treatments, the regular diurnal cycles of \([O_2]\) were disrupted, but a regime shift was not detected. In high prey-addition treatments, the variance of the \([O_2]\) time series increased until the system tipped from an aerobic to an anaerobic state. In these treatments, replicate \([O_2]\) time series predictably crossed a tipping point at ∼45 h as \([O_2]\) was decoupled from diurnal cycles of photosynthesis and respiration. Increasing organic-matter loading led to predictable changes in \([O_2]\) dynamics, with high loading consistently driving the system past a well-defined tipping point. The Sarracenia microecosystem functions as a tractable experimental system in which to explore the forecasting and management of tipping points and alternative regimes.
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