Social-ecological feedbacks drive tipping points in farming system diversification

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The emergence and impact of tipping points have garnered significant interest in both the social and natural sciences. Despite widespread recognition of the importance of feedbacks between human and natural systems, it is often assumed that the observed nonlinear dynamics in these coupled systems rests within either the underlying human or natural processes rather than the rates at which they interact. Using adoption of agricultural diversification practices as a case study, we show how two stable management paradigms (one dominated by conventional, homogeneous practices and the other by diversified practices) can emerge purely from temporal feedback between human decisions and ecological responses. We explore how this temporal mechanism of tipping points provides insight into designing more effective interventions that promote farmers' transitions toward sustainable agriculture. Moreover, we present a flexible modeling framework that could be applied to other cases as well as questions in social-ecological systems research and environmental policy design.

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One Earth