Tipping points for delta social-ecological systems


Many deltas globally are centers for social and economic development, so much so that their natural environment has been rapidly transformed over relatively short periods of times. These changes are manifested within the deltas themselves through, for example, land use changes towards intensive agriculture, but also at the river basin scale through, for example, the development of dams and reservoirs along river systems. In many cases, delta social-ecological systems have tipped from Holocene characteristics to Anthropocene characteristics and some deltas could tip to other system states (we refer to them as “collapsed”) which would be unfavorable from an anthropocentric perspective. We discuss this notion of tipping points in deltas social-ecological systems as well as opportunities to “tip back” to a previous state. We present two examples, the Danube delta which is considered an Anthropocene delta providing many opportunities for sustainable social-ecological system development and the Mekong delta, another Anthropocene delta where current development decisions locally and at the basin scale could either increase the resilience of social-ecological systems or tip these systems towards an undesirable state.
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