Regime shifts in social-ecological systems: impacts on ecosystem services and implications for poverty alleviation

Regime shifts refer to large, persistent changes in the structure and function of complex systems such as intertwined social-ecological systems (SES). Regime shifts in SES often have large impacts on ecosystem services (e.g., freshwater, food production, climate regulation) with considerable consequences for human livelihoods, health and security. There is evidence that the likelihood of regime shifts is increasing at local to global scales due to extensive anthropogenic pressures on the environment, and that it threatens the potential for long-term development and poverty eradication, especially in developing regions such as Africa.

This research aims to synthesize and compare different regime shifts that have been documented in SES, including the drivers of these shifts, impacts on ecosystem services and human well-being, and implications for poverty alleviation through the development of a Regime Shifts Database ( This research aims to provide insights into how SES can be practically managed to build resilience in terms of i) avoiding undesirable regime shifts, ii) adapting to regime shifts that cannot be avoided, and iii) facilitating desirable social-ecological regime shifts or transformations.

Project leader(s):
  • Reinette Biggs (Stockholm)