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Critical Transitions in Lake Ecosystem State May Be Driven by Coupled Feedback Mechanisms: A Case Study from Lake Erhai, China

1
State Key Laboratory of Lake Science and Environment, Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China
2
Geography and Environmental Science, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Philippe Usseglio-Polatera, Olivier Dézerald and Benjamin Alric
Water 2022, 14(1), 85; https://doi.org/10.3390/w14010085
Received: 27 October 2021 / Revised: 19 December 2021 / Accepted: 29 December 2021 / Published: 3 January 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Freshwater Community Responses to Stress)
Critical transitions between ecosystem states can be triggered by relatively small external forces or internal perturbations and may show time-lagged or hysteretic recovery. Understanding the precise mechanisms of a transition is important for ecosystem management, but it is hampered by a lack of information about the preceding interactions and associated feedback between different components in an ecosystem. This paper employs a range of data, including paleolimnological, environmental monitoring and documentary sources from lake Erhai and its catchment, to investigate the ecosystem structure and dynamics across multiple trophic levels through the process of eutrophication. A long-term perspective shows the growth and decline of two distinct, but coupled, positive feedback loops: a macrophyte-loop and a phosphorus-recycling-loop. The macrophyte-loop became weaker, and the phosphorus-recycling-loop became stronger during the process of lake eutrophication, indicating that the critical transition was propelled by the interaction of two positive feedback loops with different strengths. For lake restoration, future weakening of the phosphorus-recycling loop or a reduction in external pressures is expected to trigger macrophyte growth and eventually produce clear water conditions, but the speed of recovery will probably depend on the rates of feedback loops and the strength of their coupling. View Full-Text
Keywords: critical transition; positive feedback; regime shift; paleolimnology; eutrophication critical transition; positive feedback; regime shift; paleolimnology; eutrophication
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MDPI and ACS Style

Wang, R.; Dearing, J.A.; Langdon, P.G. Critical Transitions in Lake Ecosystem State May Be Driven by Coupled Feedback Mechanisms: A Case Study from Lake Erhai, China. Water 2022, 14, 85. https://doi.org/10.3390/w14010085

AMA Style

Wang R, Dearing JA, Langdon PG. Critical Transitions in Lake Ecosystem State May Be Driven by Coupled Feedback Mechanisms: A Case Study from Lake Erhai, China. Water. 2022; 14(1):85. https://doi.org/10.3390/w14010085

Chicago/Turabian Style

Wang, Rong, John A. Dearing, and Peter G. Langdon. 2022. "Critical Transitions in Lake Ecosystem State May Be Driven by Coupled Feedback Mechanisms: A Case Study from Lake Erhai, China" Water 14, no. 1: 85. https://doi.org/10.3390/w14010085

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