The 10 Australian ecosystems most vulnerable to tipping points

William F. Laurance*, Bernard Dell, Stephen M. Turton, Michael J. Lawes, Lindsay B. Hutley, Hamish McCallum, Patricia Dale, Michael Bird, Giles Hardy, Gavin Prideaux, Ben Gawne, Clive R. McMahon, Richard Yu, Jean Marc Hero, Lin Schwarzkopf, Andrew Krockenberger, Samantha A. Setterfield, Michael Douglas, Ewen Silvester, Michael MahonyKaren Vella, Udoy Saikia, Carl Henrik Wahren, Zhihong Xu, Bradley Smith, Chris Cocklin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

148 Citations (Scopus)


We identify the 10 major terrestrial and marine ecosystems in Australia most vulnerable to tipping points, in which modest environmental changes can cause disproportionately large changes in ecosystem properties. To accomplish this we independently surveyed the coauthors of this paper to produce a list of candidate ecosystems, and then refined this list during a 2-day workshop. The list includes (1) elevationally restricted mountain ecosystems, (2) tropical savannas, (3) coastal floodplains and wetlands, (4) coral reefs, (5) drier rainforests, (6) wetlands and floodplains in the Murray-Darling Basin, (7) the Mediterranean ecosystems of southwestern Australia, (8) offshore islands, (9) temperate eucalypt forests, and (10) salt marshes and mangroves. Some of these ecosystems are vulnerable to widespread phase-changes that could fundamentally alter ecosystem properties such as habitat structure, species composition, fire regimes, or carbon storage. Others appear susceptible to major changes across only part of their geographic range, whereas yet others are susceptible to a large-scale decline of key biotic components, such as small mammals or stream-dwelling amphibians. For each ecosystem we consider the intrinsic features and external drivers that render it susceptible to tipping points, and identify subtypes of the ecosystem that we deem to be especially vulnerable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1472-1480
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

A corrigendum for this article exists in Biological Conservation, vol. 159, p. 552. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2013.02.008


  • catastrophes
  • climatic change
  • ecological resilience
  • ecological thresholds
  • exotic pests and pathogens
  • feral animals
  • fire regimes
  • global warming
  • habitat fragmentation
  • invasive species
  • salinization
  • sea-level rise
  • species extinctions


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