When Food Webs Flip: My New Story in Scientific American

By Carl Zimmer | September 24, 2012 11:25 am

New England’s fisheries are in such bad shape that the Department of Commerce has now declared them a disaster. It’s not merely the sheer volume of fish we’re catching that explains the woeful state of these fish stocks. Even in places where governments have established strict limits on fishing, some fisheries have been unexpectedly slow to recover. That’s because fish don’t exist in isolation. They’re part of ecological networks. And when we hammer these networks, they can suddenly flip into a new state. Getting them back to their old state can be surprisingly hard.

In the new issue of Scientific American, I’ve written a feature on recent research into how ecological networks flip, along with attempts to detect warning signs of food webs on the brink (subscription required).

P.S. A needless snarky commenter objected to having to pay for the article. As I pointed out to him or her, if you want to read two lengthy scientific reviews on the subject for free, here is a pdf and here’s another one.

[Image: Lake Michigan food web/NOAA]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Writing Elsewhere

Comments (4)

  1. vanderleun

    Subscription required to read yet another “Oh Gawd We are all DOOMED!” article? I don’t think so. I’ll save my gold to buy ammo to take your food away after the always promised but never arriving apocalypse.

    [CZ: Here is a pdf of a scientific review of the evidence of the changes to food webs that have already happened–not that are predicted to happen. It’s free. Oh, and here’s another one. It’s free too. Knock yourself out.]

  2. Monkey

    Why is the “doomed” scenario toted about so easily when we hear of ecological concerns being presented in a scientifically acute context? We have the skills and tools to evaluate what is happening in nature – through a rigorous filter of science – and when it is reported the first thing that people like to harp on is that it is negative. See above comment. However, when – im just throwing out names here – infowars blurts out the approaching doom of America (thus the world) or the coming economic apocalypse and tries to sell you over-priced ancient grain seeds, ammunition, bomb shelter storage bins, etc, those same voices cry “finally somebody speaking the truth”. The lines dont connect.

    There are many good-news conservation stories, but unquestionably more bad-news stories. just because they dont fall into your political view doesnt detract form the fact that they are, well, fact. We need to hear about them, and we need to work to fix them.

    So, the point to this, is ‘thanks Carl’. Let the vanderleun’s of the world rage on in disgust. “Some men you just cant reach, …” . Which is a very unfortunate thing.

  3. David B. Benson

    Do food webs flop as well as flip?


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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