Staff Publications

Staff Publications

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    'Staff publications' is the digital repository of Wageningen University & Research

    'Staff publications' contains references to publications authored by Wageningen University staff from 1976 onward.

    Publications authored by the staff of the Research Institutes are available from 1995 onwards.

    Full text documents are added when available. The database is updated daily and currently holds about 240,000 items, of which 72,000 in open access.

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Resilience of tropical forest and savanna: bridging theory and observation
Staal, Arie - \ 2018
University. Promotor(en): Marten Scheffer, co-promotor(en): Egbert van Nes; S.C. Dekker. - Wageningen : Wageningen University - ISBN 9789463438353 - 221
A global climate niche for giant trees
Scheffer, Marten ; Xu, Chi ; Hantson, Stijn ; Holmgren, Milena ; Los, Sietse O. ; Nes, Egbert H. van - \ 2018
Global Change Biology 24 (2018)7. - ISSN 1354-1013 - p. 2875 - 2883.
alternative ecosystem state - canopy height - LiDAR - precipitation temperate rainforest - remote sensing - resilience - threshold - tropical rainforest

Rainforests are among the most charismatic as well as the most endangered ecosystems of the world. However, although the effects of climate change on tropical forests resilience is a focus of intense research, the conditions for their equally impressive temperate counterparts remain poorly understood, and it remains unclear whether tropical and temperate rainforests have fundamental similarities or not. Here we use new global data from high precision laser altimetry equipment on satellites to reveal for the first time that across climate zones ‘giant forests’ are a distinct and universal phenomenon, reflected in a separate mode of canopy height (~40 m) worldwide. Occurrence of these giant forests (cutoff height > 25 m) is negatively correlated with variability in rainfall and temperature. We also demonstrate that their distribution is sharply limited to situations with a mean annual precipitation above a threshold of 1,500 mm that is surprisingly universal across tropical and temperate climates. The total area with such precipitation levels is projected to increase by ~4 million km2 globally. Our results thus imply that strategic management could in principle facilitate the expansion of giant forests, securing critically endangered biodiversity as well as carbon storage in selected regions.

Corrigendum to “The structuring role of submerged macrophytes in a large subtropical shallow lake : Clear effects on water chemistry and phytoplankton structure community along a vegetated-pelagic gradient” [Limnologica (2018) 142–154]
Finkler Ferreira, T. ; Crossetti, Luciane O. ; Motta Marques, David M.L. ; Cardoso, Luciana ; Fragoso, Carlos Ruberto ; Nes, Egbert H. van - \ 2018
Limnologica (2018). - ISSN 0075-9511
Climate reddening increases the chance of critical transitions
Bolt, Bregje van der; Nes, Egbert H. van; Bathiany, Sebastian ; Vollebregt, Marlies E. ; Scheffer, Marten - \ 2018
Nature Climate Change 8 (2018)6. - ISSN 1758-678X - p. 478 - 484.
Climate change research often focuses on trends in the mean and variance. However, analyses of palaeoclimatic and contemporary dynamics reveal that climate memory - as measured for instance by temporal autocorrelation - may also change substantially over time. Here, we show that elevated temporal autocorrelation in climatic variables should be expected to increase the chance of critical transitions in climate-sensitive systems with tipping points. We demonstrate that this prediction is consistent with evidence from forests, coral reefs, poverty traps, violent conflict and ice sheet instability. In each example, the duration of anomalous dry or warm events elevates chances of invoking a critical transition. Understanding the effects of climate variability thus requires research not only on variance, but also on climate memory.
Forest-rainfall cascades buffer against drought across the Amazon
Staal, Arie ; Tuinenburg, Obbe A. ; Bosmans, Joyce H.C. ; Holmgren, Milena ; Nes, Egbert H. van; Scheffer, Marten ; Zemp, Delphine Clara ; Dekker, Stefan C. - \ 2018
Nature Climate Change 8 (2018)6. - ISSN 1758-678X - p. 539 - 543.

Tree transpiration in the Amazon may enhance rainfall for downwind forests. Until now it has been unclear how this cascading effect plays out across the basin. Here, we calculate local forest transpiration and the subsequent trajectories of transpired water through the atmosphere in high spatial and temporal detail. We estimate that one-third of Amazon rainfall originates within its own basin, of which two-thirds has been transpired. Forests in the southern half of the basin contribute most to the stability of other forests in this way, whereas forests in the south-western Amazon are particularly dependent on transpired-water subsidies. These forest-rainfall cascades buffer the effects of drought and reveal a mechanism by which deforestation can compromise the resilience of the Amazon forest system in the face of future climatic extremes.

Meer reuzenbos door klimaatverandering
Scheffer, Marten ; Nes, Egbert van - \ 2018
The structuring role of submerged macrophytes in a large subtropical shallow lake : Clear effects on water chemistry and phytoplankton structure community along a vegetated-pelagic gradient
Finkler Ferreira, Tiago ; Crossetti, Luciane O. ; Motta Marques, David M.L. ; Cardoso, Luciana ; Fragoso, Carlos Ruberto ; Nes, Egbert H. van - \ 2018
Limnologica 69 (2018). - ISSN 0075-9511 - p. 142 - 154.
Cyanobacteria control - Littoral-pelagic gradient - Phytoplankton community - Shallow lake restoration - Submerged macrophytes - Water quality
It is well known that submerged macrophytes exert positive feedback effects that enhance the water transparency, stabilizing the clear-water state in shallow temperate lakes. However, the structuring effect of macrophytes on the food web of subtropical and tropical ecosystems is still poorly understood. In this study we investigated the influence of dense submerged vegetation beds on the water chemistry and phytoplankton structure along a littoral-pelagic gradient of large subtropical shallow lake in southern Brazil. Seasonal monitoring was carried throughout one year following along a submerged vegetated-pelagic transect in order to analyze the effects of macrophyte's coverage (percentage of volume infested- PVI) on the water chemistry and phytoplankton community structure. Clear variations on nutrient concentration and phytoplankton biomass/composition could be observed permanently along the transect. Nutrients as orto-phosphate (PO4 −) and bicarbonate increased linearly towards the pelagic zone, whereas dissolved organic carbon and humic substances decreased linearly as PVI decreased. Concomitantly, a significant increase in the phytoplankton biomass was observed outwards from the submerged vegetation bed. In the vegetated area, small species (C-R strategists), unicellular flagellates were selected; whereas in the pelagic zone, larger (K-selected) species of cyanobacteria occurred, especially representatives of the functional groups M, LO, SN, S1 and K. Such results indicate that the macrophytes and inherent metabolism, such as potential excretion of dissolved organic compounds with allelochemicals and nutrient uptake from water column influence the structure of the phytoplankton community reducing also significantly the biomass of cyanobacteria within the dense submerged vegetated zone. Because of the continuous growth of macrophytes over the year in low latitude systems, their feed-back effect pattern tends to also dictate a different role in ecosystem dynamics and structure of the food web. These findings contribute to the management and conservation of subtropical and tropical lakes.
Abrupt Climate Change in an Oscillating World
Bathiany, S. ; Scheffer, M. ; Nes, E.H. Van; Williamson, M.S. ; Lenton, T.M. - \ 2018
Scientific Reports 8 (2018)1. - ISSN 2045-2322
The notion that small changes can have large consequences in the climate or ecosystems has become popular as the concept of tipping points. Typically, tipping points are thought to arise from a loss of stability of an equilibrium when external conditions are slowly varied. However, this appealingly simple view puts us on the wrong foot for understanding a range of abrupt transitions in the climate or ecosystems because complex environmental systems are never in equilibrium. In particular, they are forced by diurnal variations, the seasons, Milankovitch cycles and internal climate oscillations. Here we show how abrupt and sometimes even irreversible change may be evoked by even small shifts in the amplitude or time scale of such environmental oscillations. By using model simulations and reconciling evidence from previous studies we illustrate how these phenomena can be relevant for ecosystems and elements of the climate system including terrestrial ecosystems, Arctic sea ice and monsoons. Although the systems we address are very different and span a broad range of time scales, the phenomena can be understood in a common framework that can help clarify and unify the interpretation of abrupt shifts in the Earth system.
Toward a unifying theory of biodiversity
Scheffer, M. ; Nes, E.H. van; Vergnon, R.O.H. - \ 2018
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115 (2018)4. - ISSN 0027-8424 - p. 639 - 641.
Fire forbids fifty-fifty forest
Nes, Egbert H. Van; Staal, Arie ; Hantson, Stijn ; Holmgren, Milena ; Pueyo, Salvador ; Bernardi, Rafael E. ; Flores, Bernardo M. ; Xu, Chi ; Scheffer, Marten - \ 2018
PLoS One 13 (2018)1. - ISSN 1932-6203

Recent studies have interpreted patterns of remotely sensed tree cover as evidence that forest with intermediate tree cover might be unstable in the tropics, as it will tip into either a closed forest or a more open savanna state. Here we show that across all continents the frequency of wildfires rises sharply as tree cover falls below ~40%. Using a simple empirical model, we hypothesize that the steepness of this pattern causes intermediate tree cover (30–60%) to be unstable for a broad range of assumptions on tree growth and fire-driven mortality. We show that across all continents, observed frequency distributions of tropical tree cover are consistent with this hypothesis. We argue that percolation of fire through an open landscape may explain the remarkably universal rise of fire frequency around a critical tree cover, but we show that simple percolation models cannot predict the actual threshold quantitatively. The fire-driven instability of intermediate states implies that tree cover will not change smoothly with climate or other stressors and shifts between closed forest and a state of low tree cover will likely tend to be relatively sharp and difficult to reverse.

Remotely sensed canopy height reveals three pantropical ecosystem states: reply
Staal, Arie ; Hantson, Stijn ; Holmgren, Milena ; Nes, Egbert H. van; Scheffer, Marten ; Xu, Chi - \ 2018
Ecology 99 (2018)1. - ISSN 0012-9658 - p. 235 - 237.
Slow Recovery from Local Disturbances as an Indicator for Loss of Ecosystem Resilience
Leemput, I.A. van de; Dakos, V. ; Scheffer, M. ; Nes, E.H. van - \ 2018
Ecosystems 21 (2018)1. - ISSN 1432-9840 - p. 141 - 152.
A range of indicators have been proposed for identifying the elevated risk of critical transitions in ecosystems. Most indicators are based on the idea that critical slowing down can be inferred from changes in statistical properties of natural fluctuations and spatial patterns. However, identifying these signals in nature has remained challenging. An alternative approach is to infer changes in resilience from differences in standardized experimental perturbations. However, system-wide experimental perturbations are rarely feasible. Here we evaluate the potential to infer the risk of large-scale systemic transitions from local experimental or natural perturbations. We use models of spatially explicit landscapes to illustrate how recovery rates upon small-scale perturbations decrease as an ecosystem approaches a tipping point for a large-scale collapse. We show that the recovery trajectory depends on: (1) the resilience of the ecosystem at large scale, (2) the dispersal rate of organisms, and (3) the scale of the perturbation. In addition, we show that recovery of natural disturbances in a heterogeneous environment can potentially function as an indicator of resilience of a large-scale ecosystem. Our analyses reveal fundamental differences between large-scale weak and local-scale strong perturbations, leading to an overview of opportunities and limitations of the use of local disturbance-recovery experiments.
Inequality in nature and society
Scheffer, M. ; Bavel, B. van; Leemput, I.A. van de; Nes, E.H. van - \ 2017
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 114 (2017)50. - ISSN 0027-8424 - p. 13154 - 13157.
Most societies are economically dominated by a small elite, and similarly, natural communities are typically dominated by a small fraction of the species. Here we reveal a strong similarity between patterns of inequality in nature and society, hinting at fundamental unifying mechanisms. We show that chance alone will drive 1% or less of the community to dominate 50% of all resources in situations where gains and losses are multiplicative, as in returns on assets or growth rates of populations. Key mechanisms that counteract such hyperdominance include natural enemies in nature and wealth-equalizing institutions in society. However, historical research of European developments over the past millennium suggests that such institutions become ineffective in times of societal upscaling. A corollary is that in a globalizing world, wealth will inevitably be appropriated by a very small fraction of the population unless effective wealth-equalizing institutions emerge at the global level.
Rare, Intense, Big fires dominate the global tropics under drier conditions
Hantson, Stijn ; Scheffer, Marten ; Pueyo, Salvador ; Xu, Chi ; Lasslop, Gitta ; Nes, Egbert H. van; Holmgren Urba, Milena ; Mendelsohn, John - \ 2017
Scientific Reports 7 (2017). - ISSN 2045-2322 - 5 p.

Wildfires burn large parts of the tropics every year, shaping ecosystem structure and functioning. Yet the complex interplay between climate, vegetation and human factors that drives fire dynamics is still poorly understood. Here we show that on all continents, except Australia, tropical fire regimes change drastically as mean annual precipitation falls below 550 mm. While the frequency of fires decreases below this threshold, the size and intensity of wildfires rise sharply. This transition to a regime of Rare-Intense-Big fires (RIB-fires) corresponds to the relative disappearance of trees from the landscape. Most dry regions on the globe are projected to become substantially drier under global warming. Our findings suggest a global zone where this drying may have important implications for fire risks to society and ecosystem functioning.

Reply to Schöngart et al. : Forest resilience variation across Amazonian floodplains
Flores, B.M. ; Holmgren Urba, Milena ; Xu, Chi ; Nes, Egbert H. van; Jakovac, Catarina C. ; Mesquita, Rita C.G. ; Scheffer, Marten - \ 2017
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 114 (2017)41. - ISSN 0027-8424 - p. E8552 - E8554.
Maternal consumption of a cafeteria diet during lactation in rats leads the offspring to a thin-outside-fat-inside phenotype
Pomar, C.A. ; Nes, R. van; Sánchez, J. ; Picó, C. ; Keijer, J. ; Palou, A. - \ 2017
International Journal of Obesity 41 (2017)8. - ISSN 0307-0565 - p. 1279 - 1287.
Background and objective:The suckling period is a critical phase of development, in which maternal overnutrition may program the susceptibility of developing chronic diseases and disorders, such as obesity and metabolic alterations, in adult life. Here, we questioned whether the consumption of a cafeteria diet throughout lactation in rats affects the macronutrient composition of milk and whether it results in permanent metabolic effects in the offspring.Methods:Nursing rats were fed a control diet or a cafeteria diet during lactation. Milk was obtained at different time points of lactation. Offspring (males and females) were weaned onto a control diet until the age of 6 months. Circulating parameters were measured under ad libitum feeding and under 12-h fasting conditions at weaning and at 3 and 6 months of age. An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) was performed at 3 and 6 months of age.Results:Rats fed a cafeteria diet during lactation consumed an unbalanced diet, with lower protein and higher fat content versus controls, which was reflected in the composition of the milk. The offspring of rats fed a cafeteria diet during lactation showed lower body weight and lower lean mass, but greater fat accumulation, compared with controls. They also displayed hyperleptinaemia, altered lipid profile and impaired response to an OGTT.Conclusion:Maternal consumption of a cafeteria diet throughout lactation in rats produces lasting effects in the metabolic health of their offspring, which are not associated with a higher body weight but with a greater fat accumulation, similarly to the thin-outside-fat-inside phenotype.
Ups and downs in the ocean. Modelling the effect of biofouling on the vertical transport of microplastics
Kooi, M. ; Nes, E.H. van; Scheffer, M. ; Koelmans, A.A. - \ 2017
Environmental Science and Technology 51 (2017)14. - ISSN 0013-936X - p. 7963 - 7971.
Recent studies suggest size-selective removal of small plastic particles from the ocean surface, an observation that remains unexplained. We studied one of the hypotheses regarding this size-selective removal: the formation of a biofilm on the microplastics (biofouling). We developed the first theoretical model that is capable of simulating the effect of biofouling on the fate of microplastic. The model is based on settling, biofilm growth and ocean depth profiles for light, water density, temperature, salinity and viscosity. Using realistic parameters, the model simulates the vertical transport of small microplastic particles over time, and predicts that the particles either float, sink to the ocean floor, or oscillate vertically, depending on the size and density of the particle. The predicted size-dependent vertical movement of microplastic particles results in a maximum concentration at intermediate depths. Consequently, relatively low abundances of small particles are predicted at the ocean surface, while at the same time these small particles may never reach the ocean floor. Our results hint at the fate of ‘lost’ plastic in the ocean, and provide a start for predicting risks of exposure to microplastics for potentially vulnerable species living at these depths.

Ups and downs in the ocean: Effects of biofouling on the vertical transport of microplastics. Available from: [accessed Jun 19, 2017].
Coral reefs in the Anthropocene
Hughes, Terry P. ; Barnes, Michele L. ; Bellwood, David R. ; Cinner, Joshua E. ; Cumming, Graeme S. ; Jackson, Jeremy B.C. ; Kleypas, Joanie ; De Leemput, Ingrid A. Van; Lough, Janice M. ; Morrison, Tiffany H. ; Palumbi, Stephen R. ; Nes, Egbert H. Van; Scheffer, Marten - \ 2017
Nature 546 (2017)7656. - ISSN 0028-0836 - p. 82 - 90.
Coral reefs support immense biodiversity and provide important ecosystem services to many millions of people. Yet reefs are degrading rapidly in response to numerous anthropogenic drivers. In the coming centuries, reefs will run the gauntlet of climate change, and rising temperatures will transform them into new configurations, unlike anything observed previously by humans. Returning reefs to past configurations is no longer an option. Instead, the global challenge is to steer reefs through the Anthropocene era in a way that maintains their biological functions. Successful navigation of this transition will require radical changes in the science, management and governance of coral reefs.
Floodplains as an Achilles' heel of Amazonian forest resilience
Flores, Bernardo M. ; Holmgren Urba, Milena ; Xu, Chi ; Nes, Egbert H. van; Conte Jakovac, Catarina ; Mesquita, Rita C.G. ; Scheffer, Marten - \ 2017
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 114 (2017)17. - ISSN 0027-8424 - p. 4442 - 4446.
Climate change - Drought - Fire - Tropical forest - Tropical savanna

The massive forests of central Amazonia are often considered relatively resilient against climatic variation, but this view is challenged by the wildfires invoked by recent droughts. The impact of such fires that spread from pervasive sources of ignition may reveal where forests are less likely to persist in a drier future. Here we combine field observations with remotely sensed information for the whole Amazon to show that the annually inundated lowland forests that run through the heart of the system may be trapped relatively easily into a fire-dominated savanna state. This lower forest resilience on floodplains is suggested by patterns of tree cover distribution across the basin, and supported by our field and remote sensing studies showing that floodplain fires have a stronger and longer-lasting impact on forest structure as well as soil fertility. Although floodplains cover only 14% of the Amazon basin, their fires can have substantial cascading effects because forests and peatlands may release large amounts of carbon, and wildfires can spread to adjacent uplands. Floodplains are thus an Achilles' heel of the Amazon system when it comes to the risk of large-scale climatedriven transitions.

Creating a Safe Operating Space for Wetlands in a Changing Climate
Green, A.J. ; Alcorlo, P. ; Peeters, E.T.H.M. ; Morris, E.P. ; Espinar, J.L. ; Bravo, M. ; Bustamante, J. ; Diaz-Delgado, R. ; Koelmans, A.A. ; Mateo, R. ; Mooij, W.M. ; Rodriguez-Rodriguez, M. ; Nes, E.H. van; Scheffer, M. - \ 2017
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 15 (2017)2. - ISSN 1540-9295 - p. 99 - 107.
Many of the world's wetlands may be profoundly affected by climate change over the coming decades. Although wetland managers may have little control over the causes of climate change, they can help to counteract its effects through local measures. This is because direct anthropogenic impacts, such as water extraction and nutrient loading, work in concert with climate change to damage wetlands. Control of these local stressors may therefore ameliorate undesired effects of climate change, such as a shift towards dominance by invasive floating plants, increasingly frequent cyanobacteria blooms, or extinction of key species. Using the iconic Doñana wetlands in Spain as a case study, we illustrate how the concept of creating a “safe operating space” may be implemented to better ensure that ecosystems do not surpass thresholds for collapse during an era of global change.
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