SparcS Center

Marten Scheffer


Prof. Dr. M. (Marten) Scheffer (1958) currently leads the Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management group at Wageningen University. He is interested in unraveling the mechanisms that determine the stability and resilience of complex systems. Although much of his work has focused on the ecosystems of lakes, he also worked with a range of scientists from other disciplines to address issues of stability and shifts in natural and social systems. Examples include the feedback between atmospheric carbon and the earth temperature, the collapse of ancient societies, inertia and shifts in public opinion, evolutionary emergence of patterns of species similarity, the effect of climatic extremes on forest dynamics and the balance of facilitation and competition in plant communities. With the help of a Spinoza award and an ERC advanced grant he now works on finding generic early warning signals for critical transitions.

He is member of the editorial boards of ‘Ecosystems’ and ‘Ecology and Society’, and wrote two scientific books (‘Ecology of Shallow Lakes’ with Kluwer and  ‘Critical Transitions in Nature and Society’ with Princeton University press), and a popular science book (‘Vijver, Sloot en Plas’ with Jan Cuppen for Tirion publishers). Scheffer is at the Scientific Boards of the Beijer Institute and the European Santa Fe institute ‘Para Limens’. He is currently working with a team from ten countries to set up the ‘South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies’ SARAS.

An example of a lecture by Marten Scheffer at the Stockholm Resilience Center.

(cartoon by Henk van Ruitenbeek)

Marten Scheffer is also a musician, playing violin, mandoline and guitar. For examples of his work see his website

Concerted Science
Concerted Science in an experiment in combining reason and intuition in a performance with music and science (see announcement [in Dutch]). It will be performed in 2012 in:
- Paradiso, Amsterdam (March 4),:
- Het Trippenhuis, Amsterdam KNAW (March 5),:
- De Blauwe zaal, Tilburg, Studium Generale (15 Februari)
See Spinoza te Paard for fragments of the show (31 minutes in Dutch).

Recent book

A book on critical transitions with examples 
from ecosystems, climate and social systems.

just released
A cd with new compositions for percussion, 
wind and string instruments.




Publication list (Google Scholar) 


Some recent key publications:


Anticipating critical transitions

Scheffer, M., Carpenter, S.R., Lenton, T.M., Bascompte, J., Brock, W., Dakos, V., van de Koppel, J., van de Leemput, I.A., Levin, S.A., van Nes, E.H., Pascual, M. & Vandermeer, J. (2012)

Science 338 (6105):344-348 [Full text]

Recovery rates reflect distance to a tipping point in a living system

Veraart, A.J., Faassen, E.J., Dakos, V., van Nes, E.H., Lürling, M. & Scheffer, M. (2012)

Nature 481 (7381):357-359 [Full text]

Global resilience of tropical forest and savanna to critical transitions

Hirota, M., Holmgren, M., Van Nes, E.H. & Scheffer, M. (2011)

Science 334 (6053):232-235 [Full text]

Trophic downgrading of planet earth

Estes, J.A., Terborgh, J., Brashares, J.S., Power, M.E., Berger, J., Bond, W.J., Carpenter, S.R., Essington, T.E., Holt, R.D., Jackson, J.B.C., Marquis, R.J., Oksanen, L., Oksanen, T., Paine, R.T., Pikitch, E.K., Ripple, W.J., Sandin, S.A., Scheffer, M., Schoener, T.W., Shurin, J.B., Sinclair, A.R.E., Soulé, M.E., Virtanen, R. & Wardle, D.A. (2011)

Science 333 (6040):301-306 [Full text]

A safe operating space for humanity

Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Ã., Chapin, F.S., Lambin, E.F., Lenton, T.M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H.J., Nykvist, B., De Wit, C.A., Hughes, T., Van Der Leeuw, S., Rodhe, H., Sörlin, S., Snyder, P.K., Costanza, R., Svedin, U., Falkenmark, M., Karlberg, L., Corell, R.W., Fabry, V.J., Hansen, J., Walker, B., Liverman, D., Richardson, K., Crutzen, P. & Foley, J.A. (2009)

Nature 461 (7263):472-475 [Full text]

Early-warning signals for critical transitions

Scheffer, M., Bascompte, J., Brock, W.A., Brovkin, V., Carpenter, S.R., Dakos, V., Held, H., van Nes, E.H., Rietkerk, M. & Sugihara, G. (2009)

Nature 461 (7260):53-59 [Full text]

Self-organized similarity, the evolutionary emergence of groups of similar species

Scheffer, M. & Van Nes, E.H. (2006)

Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America 103 (16):6230-6235 [Full text]