Agronomy and Horticulture Department



Alternative Stable State Theory and Regime Shifts

Date of this Version


Document Type



Plant and Soil Sciences eLibrary (PASSeL) Lessons.


Copyright 2020, the authors. Used by permission.

This project was supported in part by the National Research Initiative Competitive Grants CAP project 2011-68002-30029 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, administered by the University of California-Davis and by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Division of Undergraduate Education, National SMETE Digital Library Program, Award #0938034, administered by the University of Nebraska. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USDA or NSF.


Overview - What Will You Learn in this Lesson?

This lesson discusses what alternative stable states and regime shifts are and how they relate to understanding and interpreting natural phenomena.


At the completion of this lesson, you should be able to:

  1. Understand the concepts of alternative states or regimes, thresholds, and regime shifts and how they come together under alternative state theory
  2. Understand how scale, resilience, and hysteresis play a role in alternative stable state theory
  3. Compare and contrast the two dominant theories on how a system shifts from one alternative stable state to another
  4. Articulate the management value of alternative stable state theory, its application to real world problems, and its role in global change