Chemical contamination-mediated regime shifts in planktonic systems

Article Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Theoretical Ecology


Abrupt transitions leading to algal blooms are quite well known in aquatic ecosystems and have important implications for the environment. These ecosystem shifts have been largely attributed to nutrient dynamics and food web interactions. Contamination with heavy metals such as copper can modulate such ecological interactions which in turn may impact ecosystem functioning. Motivated by this, we explored the effect of copper enrichment on such regime shifts in planktonic systems. We integrated copper contamination to a minimal phytoplankton–zooplankton model which is known to demonstrate abrupt transitions between ecosystem states. Our results suggest that both the toxic and deficient concentration of copper in water bodies can lead to regime shift to an algal-dominated alternative stable state. Further, interaction with fish density can also lead to collapse of population cycles thus leading to algal domination in the intermediate copper ranges. Environmental stochasticity may result in state transition much prior to the tipping point and there is a significant loss in the bimodality on increasing intensity and redness of noise. Finally, the impending state shifts due to contamination cannot be predicted by the generic early warning indicators unless the transition is close enough. Overall the study provides fresh impetus to explore regime shifts in ecosystems under the influence of anthropogenic changes like chemical contamination.

First Page


Last Page




Publication Date



Open Access, Green

This document is currently not available here.