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Region-wide changes in marine ecosystem dynamics: state-space models to distinguish trends from step changes


Correspondence: Matthew Spencer, tel. + 44 151 795 4399, fax + 44 151 794 5196, e-mail:


Regime shifts are sudden changes in ecosystem structure that can be detected across several ecosystem components. The concept that regime shifts are common in marine ecosystems has gained popularity in recent years. Many studies have searched for the step-like changes in ecosystem state expected under a simple interpretation of this idea. However, other kinds of change, such as pervasive trends, have often been ignored. We assembled over 300 ecological time series from seven UK marine regions, covering two to three decades. We developed state-space models for the first principal component of the time series in each region, a common measure of ecosystem state. Our models allowed both trends and step changes, possibly in combination. We found trends in three of seven regions and step changes in two of seven regions. Gradual and sudden changes are therefore important trajectories to consider in marine ecosystems.