, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 256–263 | Cite as

When Ecosystem Services Crash: Preparing for Big, Fast, Patchy Climate Change

  • David D. Breshears
  • Laura López-Hoffman
  • Lisa J. Graumlich
Review Paper


Assessments of adaptation options generally focus on incremental, homogeneous ecosystem responses to climate even though climate change impacts can be big, fast, and patchy across a region. Regional drought-induced tree die-off in semiarid woodlands highlights how an ecosystem crash fundamentally alters most ecosystem services and poses management challenges. Building on previous research showing how choice of location is linked to adaptive capacity and vulnerability, we developed a framework showing how the options for retaining desired ecosystem services in the face of sudden crashes depend on how portable the service is and whether the stakeholder is flexible with regard to the location where they receive their services. Stakeholders using portable services, or stakeholders who can move to other locations to obtain services, may be more resilient to ecosystem crashes. Our framework suggests that entering into cooperative networks with regionally distributed stakeholders is key to building resilience to big, fast, patchy crashes.


Climate change Drought Ecosystem services Forest tree die-off 



This article concept was developed in association with a Fellowship to DDB from the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy. Associated research was supported by NSF (DIRENet # DEB-0443526), DOE NICCR (Western Region: DE-FCO2-O6ER64159) and the state of Arizona (Ag Experiment Station and TRIF). We thank CD Allen, USGS, for use of the photo in Fig. 1.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • David D. Breshears
    • 1
    • 2
  • Laura López-Hoffman
    • 1
    • 3
  • Lisa J. Graumlich
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentThe University of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyThe University of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  3. 3.Udall Center for Studies in Public PolicyThe University of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  4. 4.College of the EnvironmentThe University of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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