Colorado mountains

Identifying alternative indicators for the detection of abrupt transitions in ecosystems: a consideration of time scale and community parameters

Working Group Reports

As climate change continues to accelerate, many ecosystems are poised for frequent abrupt and irreversible transitions (Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).  In order to enhance prediction and management of these changes across ecosystems, Bestelmeyer et al. (2011) developed a systematic approach for identifying the occurrence of transitions, the leading indicators, and the underlying mechanisms.  Their analyses revealed that the choice of the leading indicator, the biological response used to detect the transitions (e.g. the abundance of a particular species), generates many limitations. 

We will explore the identification and use of alternative leading indicators, including abundance of species with a variety of life spans, abundance of functional groups, community parameters, and physiological parameters. We will identify additional LTER time series (from those used by Bestelmeyer et al. 2011) of driver and response variables from multiple LTER sites to perform these analyses.  Our results will provide information on the appropriate drivers and biological responses to incorporate in monitoring efforts as well as the temporal scale of these measurements.  Additionally, the application of our developed approach to datasets from multiple ecosystems will facilitate site comparisons for how the signal of disturbance and state change is translated through different foodwebs and communities.

In the first hour of the workshop, the organizers will give short introductory presentations on the workshop theme and our preliminary analysis of data from the MCR LTER.  We will initiate an information-sharing discussion about similar datasets and ongoing research at other LTER sites that address this topic in the second hour of the workshop.

We envision this working group will generate cross-site collaborations and discussions that will continue following the LTER ASM meeting.  We intend to form a group of committed graduate student and higher-level participants to bring data from multiple sites for analysis and the creation of a manuscript.


Bestelmeyer, BT et al. 2011. Analysis of abrupt transitions in ecological systems. Ecosphere 2(12):129. doi:10.1890/ES11-00216.1

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC.




Emily Rivest
Xueying Han
Samantha Davis
Preferred date(s): 
Sept 11
Number of 2 hour sessions requested: 
Equipment requested: 
We need a cable, projector, and screen to display powerpoint slides.
Working Group Materials
Room Assignment: 
Wind River A (100)

Background Photo by: Nicole Hansen - Jornada (JRN) LTER