University of Wisconsin–Madison
aerial photo of Yahara watershed
Photo of a green corn
photo of an eastern deciduous forest
photo of a time-series

Research

We aim to answer fundamental questions. For instance, how much disturbance can living resources absorb before they change qualitatively? Where are the tipping points in ecosystems, and what forces can push ecosystems past those tipping points? When and where do we expect significant changes in our landscapes and waters? Can we identify the potential for tipping points before they are crossed? The potential for large and sudden ecosystem change is clear, yet these questions have proven challenging to answer.

Our research revolves around a diverse set of real-world ecosystem challenges:

Harmful algal blooms

Food system vulnerability 

Tree population collapses

Ecosystem conversion

Each of these challenges is tied directly to critical resources—fisheries, food production, forests and recreation—that are important to human society and vulnerable to abrupt, fundamental change. Each model system is characterized by complex spatial dynamics and time lags that can mask impending abrupt changes. By considering four diverse systems, we will develop synthetic insights that apply across these systems, and to ecosystems in general. Our cross-system synthesis work aims to develop general Concepts and theory.

aerial photo of Yahara watershed
Harmful algal blooms
photo of an irrigated corn field
Food system vulnerability
photo of an eastern deciduous forest
Tree population collapses
Photo of a burning maple forest
Ecosystem conversion
photo of a phase plane
Concepts and theory