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Identifying the drivers and responses of abrupt changes across spatial and temporal scales in ecology: a review


At a Glance


Authors: Lukas Lamb-Wotton, Kathryn Flowers, Kenneth Anderson, Peter Flood, Melanie Esch, David Kochan, John Kominoski
Time period: 2000-01-01 to 2018-12-31
Package id: knb-lter-fce.1244.1

How to cite:
Lamb-Wotton, L., K. Flowers, K. Anderson, P. Flood, M. Esch, D. Kochan, J. Kominoski. 2022. Identifying the drivers and responses of abrupt changes across spatial and temporal scales in ecology: a review. Environmental Data Initiative. https://doi.org/10.6073/pasta/95b1aeab15d98f73775feccf7e40bdd8. Dataset accessed 2022-12-05.

Geographic Coverage


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Detailed Metadata


  • Geographic Coverage
    Bounding Coordinates
    Worldwide.
    N: 90.0, S: -90.0, E: 180.0, W: -180.0

  • Attributes
    • Data Table:   This dataset contains information extracted from a series of paper identified to be characterizing abrupt ecological change, based on a literature review of 734 papers. We assess the spatial and temporal scales that the abrupt change was measured, as well as the driver and response of that change.
      Attribute Name:
      Search
      Attribute Label:
      Search
      Attribute Definition:
      Literature search number
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      1= 1
      2= 2
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Ecosystem
      Attribute Label:
      Ecosystem
      Attribute Definition:
      Ecosystem abrupt change was measured in
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Freshwater= Freshwater ecosystem
      Marine= Marine Ecosystem
      Terrestrial= Terrestrial Ecosystem
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Location
      Attribute Label:
      Location
      Attribute Definition:
      Location where abrupt change was measured in based on what was reported in study.
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Location where abrupt change was measured in based on what was reported in study.
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Latitude
      Attribute Label:
      Latitude
      Attribute Definition:
      Latitude of study area
      Storage Type:
      float
      Measurement Scale:
      Units: Decimal degree
      Number Type: real
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Longitude
      Attribute Label:
      Longitude
      Attribute Definition:
      Longitude of study area
      Storage Type:
      float
      Measurement Scale:
      Units: Decimal degree
      Number Type: real
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Definition_of_abrupt_change
      Attribute Label:
      Definition of abrupt change
      Attribute Definition:
      Definition of abrupt change, if authors provided one.
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Definition of abrupt change, if authors provided one.
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No definition)

      Attribute Name:
      Driver
      Attribute Label:
      Driver
      Attribute Definition:
      Specific driver of abrupt change, as reported by study authors.
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Specific driver of abrupt change, as reported by study authors.
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No driver identified)

      Attribute Name:
      Driver_Category
      Attribute Label:
      Driver Category
      Attribute Definition:
      Driver of abrupt change
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Driver of abrupt change
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No driver identified)

      Attribute Name:
      Trigger
      Attribute Label:
      Trigger
      Attribute Definition:
      Specific trigger of abrupt change, as reported in study.
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Specific trigger of abrupt change, as reported in study.
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No trigger identified)

      Attribute Name:
      Trigger_Category
      Attribute Label:
      Trigger Category
      Attribute Definition:
      Trigger of abrupt change, as reported in study.
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      anthropogenic= Anthropogenic trigger of abrupt change.
      climate= Climate trigger of abrupt change
      disturbance= Disturbance trigger of abrupt change.
      eutrophication= Eutrophication trigger of abrupt change
      hydrology= Hydrology trigger of abrupt change
      species= Species trigger of abrupt change
      NA= No trigger identified
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No trigger identified)

      Attribute Name:
      Driver_Spatial_Scale
      Attribute Label:
      Driver Spatial Scale
      Attribute Definition:
      Spatial scale of driver of abrupt change
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      NA= No driver was identified, so no spatial scale.
      single site= Driver was identified at 1 single site
      local= Driver measured within a localized area across more than 1 single site
      regional= Driver was identified across a broad region
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No driver identified)

      Attribute Name:
      Driver_Temporal_Scale
      Attribute Label:
      Driver Temporal Scale
      Attribute Definition:
      Temporal scale of driver of abrupt change
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      NA= No temporal scale identified for driver, or driver was not identified.
      sub-annual= Driver occurred in < 1 year
      annual= Driver occurred in 1 year
      sub-decadal= Driver occurred between 1 - 10 years
      decadal= Driver occurred between 10 - 100 years.
      centennial= Driver occurred in 100 years
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No temporal scale identified)

      Attribute Name:
      Response
      Attribute Label:
      Response
      Attribute Definition:
      Specific response to driver of abrupt change, as reported in study.
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Specific response to driver of abrupt change, as reported in study.
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No response identified)

      Attribute Name:
      Response_Category
      Attribute Label:
      Response Category
      Attribute Definition:
      Category of response to driver of abrupt change
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      NA= No response identified
      population= Response at the population level
      community= Response at the community level
      ecosystem= Response at the ecosystem level
      hydrology= Response identified to be related to hydrology of system
      inorganic matter= Response identified to have been related to inorganic matter
      organic matter= Response identified to have been related to organic matter
      primary production= Response identified to have been related to primary production
      land cover= Response identified to be change in land-cover
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No response identified)

      Attribute Name:
      Response_Spatial_Scale
      Attribute Label:
      Response Spatial Scale
      Attribute Definition:
      Spatial scale of response of abrupt change
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      NA= No spatial scale identified
      single site= Response measured at 1 single site
      local= Response measured within a localized area across > 1 single site.
      regional= Response measured across a broader, regional spatial scale.
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No spatial scale identified)

      Attribute Name:
      Response_Temporal_Scale
      Attribute Label:
      Response Temporal Scale
      Attribute Definition:
      Temporal scale of response of abrupt change
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      NA= No temporal scale identified
      sub-annual= Response identified to have occurred in <1 year (e.g. season)
      annual= Response identified to have occurred in 1 year
      sub-decadal= Response identified to occur in 1 - 10 years
      decadal= Response identified to occur in 10 - 100 years
      centennial= Response identified to occur over 100 years
      Missing Value Code:
      NA (No temporal scale identified)

      Attribute Name:
      State_Change
      Attribute Label:
      State Change
      Attribute Definition:
      Did the abrupt change result in a state change?
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      N= No
      Y= Yes
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Author
      Attribute Label:
      Author
      Attribute Definition:
      Author(s) of study
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Author(s) of study
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Year
      Attribute Label:
      Year
      Attribute Definition:
      Year of publication
      Storage Type:
      float
      Measurement Scale:
      Units: Year
      Number Type: integer
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Title_of_the_publication
      Attribute Label:
      Title of the publication
      Attribute Definition:
      Title of study
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Title of study
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Publication
      Attribute Label:
      Publication
      Attribute Definition:
      Journal study was published in
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Journal study was published in
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Reference_link
      Attribute Label:
      Reference link
      Attribute Definition:
      DOI or other reference link to study
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      DOI or other reference link to study
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Primary_Data_Recorder
      Attribute Label:
      Primary Data Recorder
      Attribute Definition:
      1st data recorder (last name)
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      1st data recorder (last name)
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Secondary_QAQC
      Attribute Label:
      Secondary QAQC
      Attribute Definition:
      Second data recorder (initials)
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Second data recorder (initials)
      Missing Value Code:
       

      Attribute Name:
      Notes
      Attribute Label:
      Notes
      Attribute Definition:
      Specific notes about study
      Storage Type:
      string
      Measurement Scale:
      Specific notes about study
      Missing Value Code:
       


  • Methods
    Method Step

    Description
    Literature search In March 2018, we performed a review of the academic literature using the Web of Science to identify drivers and ecological responses to abrupt change, as well as the spatial and temporal scales they occurred at using literature published between 2000 - 2018. We targeted both paleoecological and modern ecological peer-reviewed articles using two searches. The first search used the terms “TITLE: (abrupt chang* OR rapid chang* OR sudden chang* OR tipping point*) AND TOPIC: (ecosystem type) from 2000 - 2018” and returned 334 articles. The second search used the terms “TITLE: (regime shift* OR state change* OR alternate stable state* OR phase shift*) AND TOPIC: (foundation species OR keystone species OR top down OR bottom up) AND CATEGORY: (ecology) from 2000-2018” and returned 404 articles. Four articles were found to be duplicates, resulting in a total count of 734 articles between the two searches. Inclusion-exclusion criteria for article screening Due to the relative nature of abrupt changes in ecological research, we developed several exclusionary criteria in order to focus our meta-analysis on papers that captured naturally occurring, environmental change that resulted in identifiable responses that were either ecological or had clear ecological relevance. We excluded all papers that were (1) from a field outside of ecology or an associated field; (2) not an original, peer-reviewed research article (including reviews, meta-analyses, comments, editorials, book chapters, etc.); (3) field- or lab-based experiments; (4) models that either forecasted future changes, or were simulations; and (5) paleoecological studies, and (6) studies where a clear abrupt change could not be identified. Our exclusion criteria were developed with the goal of selecting articles that characterized discrete ecological changes as they naturally occur, resulting in the inclusion of 117 papers. Data extraction For each paper, two rounds of data extraction were done as a means of quality assurance/quality control. A third round was then completed by the lead author to ensure consistency, including the article screening process. We generally followed the meta-analytic framework outlined in the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA; Moher et al. 2009). During the third round, screening and data extraction were completed simultaneously. Data extraction began by classifying the general ecosystem as either terrestrial, freshwater, or marine. We then identified the geographic location, including latitude and longitude, and, if present, recorded the definition of abrupt change. Papers were then examined for evidence of drivers and triggers of ecological change and the associated ecological response. A “driver” was defined as an external variable or factor that influenced the dynamics of the system without themselves being affected by the system (Ratajczak et al. 2018), while a “trigger” was defined as a discrete event in time, or a singular event that directly affected the ecological response (Bestelmeyer et al. 2011). A “response” was any ecological or biological parameter where a change was identified (Bestelmeyer et al. 2011). Drivers were binned into one of six categories: climate, disturbance, eutrophication, hydrology, species, or anthropogenic. Anthropogenic refers to changes induced by management, recreation, commercial operations, pollution caused by surface run-off in urban or agricultural areas. For papers where we identified multiple drivers (n = 5), combined driver bins were recorded, rather than identifying them as primary and secondary drivers (e.g. climate-hydrology). Triggers were categorized with the same categories as drivers and only recorded when a trigger could be clearly identified. Responses were binned into one of seven categories: population, community, ecosystem, inorganic matter, organic matter, and primary production. Ecosystem was recorded when changes were measured across multiple components of the system. When authors clearly identified multiple, distinct ecological changes, each change was given a separate entry. When papers only focused on examining drivers of abrupt change, no ecological response was recorded. When authors could not clearly distinguish the driver of abrupt change, no driver was recorded. We then identified the spatial and temporal scales of the driver of the ecological change and associated ecological response. Spatial scales were binned into one of three categories: (1) single site, (2) local, or (3) regional. Single site was recorded when the study clearly took place at a single site. Local spatial scale was recorded when the study was clearly at the scale of an ecosystem or connected landscape, including lakes, and any study that took place at small scales e.g. 10x10m plots. Regional spatial scale was recorded when it was explicitly stated in the paper or when ecological changes could only be identified after aggregating information from multiple sampling locations. Temporal scales were binned into five categories: (1) sub-annual, (2) annual, (3) sub-decadal, or (4) decadal, or (5) centennial. When ecological changes were only documented across space, such as space-for-time substitutions, no temporal scale was recorded. Temporal scales of responses were determined based on the length of time it took for the ecological change to measurably occur, taking into account the temporal resolution of the sampling (e.g. monthly sampling averaged to annual scales). Temporal scales of drivers were determined based on the length of time it took for the driver to have a significant impact on ecosystem state. Lastly, we identified if the ecological change was associated with a “state change”. We defined state change based on how “state” is defined by Ratajczak et al. (2018). A state is, “the characteristics used to describe the state of an ecosystem at a particular domain in space and time”. Therefore our definition of state change was defined as an observed large change in an ecosystem that can be gradual or fast, with the latter being described as an abrupt change, which can or can not lead to a transition to an alternative state, and be used synonymously with phase shift (Ratajczak et al. 2018).


  • Distribution and Intellectual Rights
    Online distribution
    https://doi.org/10.6073/pasta/95b1aeab15d98f73775feccf7e40bdd8
    Intellectual Rights
    This information is released under the Creative Commons license - Attribution - CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). The consumer of these data ("Data User" herein) is required to cite it appropriately in any publication that results from its use. The Data User should realize that these data may be actively used by others for ongoing research and that coordination may be necessary to prevent duplicate publication. The Data User is urged to contact the authors of these data if any questions about methodology or results occur. Where appropriate, the Data User is encouraged to consider collaboration or co-authorship with the authors. The Data User should realize that misinterpretation of data may occur if used out of context of the original study. While substantial efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of data and associated documentation, complete accuracy of data sets cannot be guaranteed. All data are made available "as is." The Data User should be aware, however, that data are updated periodically and it is the responsibility of the Data User to check for new versions of the data. The data authors and the repository where these data were obtained shall not be liable for damages resulting from any use or misinterpretation of the data. Thank you.

  • Keywords
    ecosystems, abrupt change, state change, meta-analysis
  • Dataset Contact
    • Name: Lukas Lamb-Wotton 
    • Position: PhD Candidate
    • Organization: Florida International University
    • Address: 11200 SW 8th St., OE-148
      Miami, FL 33199 United States
    • Phone: 2078918921
    • Email: llamb009@fiu.edu


  • Data Table and Format
    Data Table:  This dataset contains information extracted from a series of paper identified to be characterizing abrupt ecological change, based on a literature review of 734 papers. We assess the spatial and temporal scales that the abrupt change was measured, as well as the driver and response of that change.

    Entity Name:
    abruptChangeMETA_Data_2022-04-07
    Entity Description:
    This dataset contains information extracted from a series of paper identified to be characterizing abrupt ecological change, based on a literature review of 734 papers. We assess the spatial and temporal scales that the abrupt change was measured, as well as the driver and response of that change.
    Object Name:
    abruptChangeMETA_Data_2022-04-13.csv
    Number of Header Lines:
    1
    Attribute Orientation:
    column
    Field Delimiter:
    ,
    Number of Records:
    122

  • Metadata Provider
    • Name: Lukas Lamb-Wotton 
    • Organization: Florida International University
    • Address: 11200 SW 8th St., OE-148
      Miami, FL 33199 United States
    • Phone: 2078918921
    • Email: llamb009@fiu.edu