Understanding marine regime shifts is important not only for ecology but also for developing marine management that assures the provision of ecosystem services to humanity. While regime shift theory is well developed, there is still no common understanding on drivers, mechanisms and characteristic of abrupt changes in real marine ecosystems. Based on contributions to the present theme issue, we highlight some general issues that need to be overcome for developing a more comprehensive understanding of marine ecosystem regime shifts. We find a great divide between benthic reef and pelagic ocean systems in how regime shift theory is linked to observed abrupt changes. Furthermore, we suggest that the long-lasting discussion on the prevalence of top-down trophic or bottom-up physical drivers in inducing regime shifts may be overcome by taking into consideration the synergistic interactions of multiple stressors, and the special characteristics of different ecosystem types. We present a framework for the holistic investigation of marine regime shifts that considers multiple exogenous drivers that interact with endogenous mechanisms to cause abrupt, catastrophic change. This framework takes into account the time-delayed synergies of these stressors, which erode the resilience of the ecosystem and eventually enable the crossing of ecological thresholds. Finally, considering that increased pressures in the marine environment are predicted by the current climate change assessments, in order to avoid major losses of ecosystem services, we suggest that marine management approaches should incorporate knowledge on environmental thresholds and develop tools that consider regime shift dynamics and characteristics. This grand challenge can only be achieved through a holistic view of marine ecosystem dynamics as evidenced by this theme issue.
Keywords: regime shift, phase shift, marine, ecology, management, global change
Citation: Conversi, A., V. Dakos, A. Gårdmark, S. Ling, C. Folke, P. Mumby, C. Greene, M. Edwards, T. Blenckner, M. Casini, A. Pershing, and C. Möllmann 2014 Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 370(1659).