Summary - Why are Alternative State States and Regime Shifts Important?

The theory of alternative stables and regime shifts is the concept that systems are dynamic and may have multiple possible configurations in which they are able to exist. The example used here is of two lakes in the same location and under the same climate but yet fundamentally different. One has undergone a regime shift from a clear lake to a turbid lake as the result of having its resilience to nutrient overloading overcome and subsequently flipping into an alternative stable state from the clear lake. To go back to the ball-and-cup model, some disturbances may move the ball while altering stabilizing feedbacks of a state cause the size and shape of the cup to change, overall these concepts allow us to understand that systems are dynamic and that even small disturbances may be the “last straw” that suddenly collapses a system, or breaks the camel's back. What is needed to change a system back into a previous state may be unclear, as systems pushed into alternative stable states may have to contend with hysteresis, or the fact that pushing the ball back over the hill from where it came may be much more difficult than pushing the ball into the new state in which it is now. Whether ecological systems or states of government, this theory prevents us from seeing systems as static, and is necessary to understand the full range of possible configurations for any system.