Regime Shifts in Spatially Extended Ecosystems
Regime shifts in ecosystems are typically understood to be abrupt global transitions from one stable state to an alternative stable state, induced by slow environmental changes or global disturbances. However, spatially extended ecosystems often exhibit patterned states, which allows for more complex dynamics to take place. A bistability of a patterned state and a uniform state can lead to a multitude of stable hybrid states, with small domains of one state embedded in the other state. The response of the system to local disturbances or change in global parameters in these systems can lead to gradual regime shifts, involving the expansion of alternative-state domains by front propagation, rather than a global collapse. Moreover, a regime of periodic perturbations can give rise to step-like gradual shifts with extended pauses at these states. The implications of these scenarios to regime shifts in dryland vegetation will be discussed, focusing on the case of fairy circles in Namibia as a concrete example.