Understanding of regime shifts is important for ecosystem governance as they often have substantial impacts on human economies and societies, tend to occur unexpectedly, and are difficult, expensive and sometimes impossible to reverse. Sudden, large, long-lasting shifts in system structure and function as a consequence of human actions have been documented in a variety of ecosystems, including coral reefs, freshwater lakes, marine systems and savanna rangelands. Similar shifts linked to ecosystems have been documented in social, political and economic spheres. Understanding of regime shifts derives from these empirical observations as well as from dynamical systems theory, a branch of mathematics that studies the behavior of complex systems. Mathematical models show that complex systems such as social-ecological systems (SES) can self-organize around different equilibrium points or attractors. This is because complex systems consist of many components linked by feedback loops, which can be configured in a limited number of different ways.
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