Adaptive Co-Management of “Tipping Points” in Social Ecological Systems: Governing Alternate Stable States in Lake Champlain Basin

TitleAdaptive Co-Management of “Tipping Points” in Social Ecological Systems: Governing Alternate Stable States in Lake Champlain Basin
Publication TypeConference Paper and Presentation
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsZia, A, Koliba, C, Bomblies, A, Schroth, AW, Beckage, B
Conference Name2014 Norwich Conference on Earth System Governance: Access and Allocation in the Anthropocene
Date Published2014/07
Conference Location Norwich, UK

When exposed to exogenous shocks or endogenous surprises, recent complexity science-informed research on social ecological systems (SESs) has demonstrated that these systems do not necessarily go through gradual change. Indeed, rather abrupt shifts between alternate stable states can suddenly take place. It is hypothesized that a loss of resilience usually triggers such critical transitions or “tipping points” in the SES’s state variable. Such stochastic fluctuations may often be driven
externally; however, they can also result from internal system dynamics. How will SESs undergo abrupt shifts into alternate stable states? Further, if social ecological modeling approaches could be used to generate an early warning or foresight about the tipping points in a complex system, will human actors within the system use the early warning to adapt and adjust their behaviors to avoid the
worst case scenarios?

We examine these questions in the light of SES governing water quality in Lake Champlain, affected by nutrient flows from multi-jurisdictional Lake Champlain Basin (LCB) across USA and Canada. Anthropogenic climate change could induce abrupt alternate stable states in the Lake Champlain from more frequent and more intense flooding events in LCB as well as reduced ice cover internally in the lake system. In this study we are modeling a suite of scenarios of human induced climatic change,
increasing agricultural land usage and rapid urbanization in the LCB, to determine if and under what conditions the Lake segments could abruptly switch to a eutrophic state. Furthermore, our integrated models will examine the effect of proactive adaptive management strategies on prevention of further eutrophication of portions of the Lake under climate change. We draw broad theoretical implications for adaptive co-management of tipping points in SESs, with an emphasis on generating early-warning
for tipping points, adapting social system behavior and (social) learning through policy experimentation.

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