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Are tipping points suitable concepts for developing environmental policies?



Are tipping points suitable concepts for developing environmental policies?

The study by Hillebrand and co-authors warns that the reaction of natural ecosystems (here: a floodplain forest in Lower Saxony, Germany) to minor environmental change should not be underestimated. Credit: University of Oldenburg Many policies tackling the consequences of global environmental change rely on the concept of tipping points: If an impact, such as biodiversity loss, becomes too large, an ecosystem might flip into a different, often less desirable state. This suggests that environmental pressures should remain below a certain threshold to keep the ecosystem in a safe operating space. An international team of scientists led by the biodiversity expert Prof. Dr. Helmut Hillebrand of the University of Oldenburg, Germany, is now questioning whether this concept is suited for developing environmental policies.

Using detailed statistical analyses of published results from more than 4,600 field experiments, the scientists found little evidence for thresholds. When focussing on tipping points, scientists and policy makers may thus risk overlooking the negative impact of gradual changes on ecosystems—with potentially disastrous consequences. The analysis has been published in the Journal Nature Ecology and Evolution .

In recent years, many ecological case studies have been published that indicate the tipping behaviour of ecosystems. For example, coral reefs may […]

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