The Ecothresholds Project

Understanding thresholds in global change and their implications for decisionmaking

The Ecothresholds Project

Understanding thresholds in global change and their implications for decisionmaking

The Ecothresholds Project

Understanding thresholds in global change and their implications for decisionmaking

Fall 2017 Meeting

Case Studies of Threshold Change

Case Studies of Threshold Change

The Fall 2006 meeting “Understanding Ecological Thresholds in Global Change: Connecting Science to Decisions and Response” is intended to organize what is known scientifically about linked social and ecological thresholds, the role of climate (across timescales and spatial scales), and the confluence of factors that drive change toward a particular threshold effect. A case study approach was chosen for this first meeting as a way of drawing together important concepts common to multiple stress change, grounding them in place or a decision setting, and providing a vehicle for synthesizing scientific insights with explicit relevance for practitioners facing a set of risk management challenges. 

In consultation with the Steering Committee, a typology of cases was developed according to those that are well-known cases from the past where a threshold was reached and the management challenges are explicit (Type 1); those that are emerging now and often feature aspects of accelerating change (Type 2); and those that present very large scale, system-wide challenges (termed by the committee “things that go bump in the night”) (Type 3).  The cases selected for analysis throughout this meeting are clustered according to this typology.

TYPE 1 Case description Author
Peruvian Anchovy Collapse of Peruvian Anchovy Fishery Kenny Broad
Mesquite Invasion Chihuahuan desert Brandon Bestelmeyer
TYPE 2 Case description Author
Sea-level Rise North Carolina / Albemarle Peninsula Jeff DeBlieu
Drought Colorado River Basin Roger Pulwarty
Drought II Columbia River Basin Ed Miles
Forest Die-Off / Back Woodland forest / tree die-off David Breshears
Forest Die-Off / Back II Climate change, desertification, and forest dieback in the African Sahel Patrick Gonzalez
Coral Reefs Florida Keys Phil Kramer
Bark Beetles British Columbia Mike Bradley
TYPE 3 Case description Author
Ocean Acidification Ocean Acidification Richard Feely
Terrestrial Carbon Sink Terrestrial Carbon Sink Lisa Dilling

One of the main goals for this first meeting is to develop a working definition of integrated global change thresholds that present particular management challenges.  Participants in the November meeting are tasked with framing and articulating the dynamics of interactions across linked social-ecological thresholds in order to best reveal implications for risk and management, including broader issues of adaptation for increased resilience and reduction of vulnerability.

As part of the preparation for the meeting several participants were asked to contribute to a collection of short case studies (5-6 pages) designed to provide background and context-specific material for discussion and to briefly present the case to the group in a panel format at the meeting (8-10 minutes).

Question Template for case studies of threshold change
1. What is changing? Description of system and response/Establishing the scientific basis for observed change

  • What indicators or effect alerted the scientific community and resource users to this particular change?
  • Was the change the result of interaction across physical, natural, and human factors?
  • How is/was the perceived change assessed?
  • What is the reasoning behind the assertion that this change has occurred? What are the perceived pressures?
  • What were the principal factors accounting for vulnerability?

2. Institutional responses to the threshold change:

  • Who was most affected by the change?
  • At what point was adaptive capacity overwhelmed and what was the response?

3. How do we evaluate the effectiveness of our coping strategies?

  • What can we predict or “foresee” about threshold behavior?
  • What are the appropriate criteria for determining response effectiveness?
    • Reduction of risk and vulnerability
    • As a function of the sensitivity of the system and our response
    • Timescale
    • Resilience
  • Who should participate in these assessments?

Participants please download and read the prepared case studies in advance of the meeting.

Get in Touch

Fall 2017 Meeting Agenda

The full schedule of speakers and activities.

Location, logistics and travel information

For the Fall conference.



The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment


900 17th Street, NW • Suite 700 • Washington, DC

Eco Threshold

900 17th Street, NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC

Telephone: 202-737-6307
Fax: 202-737-6410