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Developing a standardized definition of ecosystem collapse for risk assessment
journal contributionposted on 2018-02-01, 00:00 authored by Lucie Bland, Jessica Rowland, T J Regan, D A Keith, N J Murray, Rebecca LesterRebecca Lester, Matthew Linn, J P Rodríguez, Emily Nicholson
© The Ecological Society of America The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Ecosystems is a powerful tool for classifying threatened ecosystems, informing ecosystem management, and assessing the risk of ecosystem collapse (that is, the endpoint of ecosystem degradation). These risk assessments require explicit definitions of ecosystem collapse, which are currently challenging to implement. To bridge the gap between theory and practice, we systematically review evidence for ecosystem collapses reported in two contrasting biomes – marine pelagic ecosystems and terrestrial forests. Most studies define states of ecosystem collapse quantitatively, but few studies adequately describe initial ecosystem states or ecological transitions leading to collapse. On the basis of our review, we offer four recommendations for defining ecosystem collapse in risk assessments: (1) qualitatively defining initial and collapsed states, (2) describing collapse and recovery transitions, (3) identifying and selecting indicators of collapse, and (4) setting quantitative collapse thresholds.