Whiteboard equations
photo of an eastern deciduous forest
photo of an irrigated corn field
aerial photo of Yahara watershed

Abrupt changes in ecosystems can come with little warning and lead to rapid shifts in ecosystem services and biodiversity. Understanding and anticipating the consequences of 21st-Century changes for natural resources and human well being are among the biggest challenges in contemporary ecology. Science currently lacks a framework for predicting abrupt and fundamental changes in ecosystems as rates of global change continue to accelerate. The challenges associated with anticipating abrupt changes arise in all ecosystems, so solutions require the close integration of novel theoretical and modeling approaches with high-quality empirical data drawn from a diverse array of ecosystems.

At the UW-Madison Center for Study of Abrupt Change in Ecological Systems (ACES) we are working to overcome a major challenge to understanding abrupt ecological shifts—namely, the disparity between existing theory and what is testable and measurable in the real world—by developing and applying new theoretical and mathematical approaches to detect and predict abrupt ecological changes.

We are a diverse group of researchers from different corners of ecology. Across a wide array of systems, we are working to:

  • Identify common mechanisms of abrupt change
  • Operationalize concepts of change and resilience
  • Develop new capacities to anticipate and understand ecological changes

We are grateful to UW2020 for principal funding (read the UW2020 proposal here). Visit Research, People, and Publications to learn more.