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Title: Evaluating the performance of temporal and spatial early warning statistics of algal blooms

Regime shifts have large consequences for ecosystems and the services they provide. However, understanding the potential for, causes of, proximity to, and thresholds for regime shifts in nearly all settings is difficult. Generic statistical indicators of resilience have been proposed and studied in a wide range of ecosystems as a method to detect when regime shifts are becoming more likely without direct knowledge of underlying system dynamics or thresholds. These early warning statistics (EWS) have been studied separately but there have been few examples that directly compare temporal and spatial EWS in ecosystem‐scale empirical data. To test these methods, we collected high‐frequency time series and high‐resolution spatial data during a whole‐lake fertilization experiment while also monitoring an adjacent reference lake. We calculated two common EWS, standard deviation and autocorrelation, in both time series and spatial data to evaluate their performance prior to the resulting algal bloom. We also applied the quickest detection method to generate binary alarms of resilience change from temporal EWS. One temporal EWS, rolling window standard deviation, provided advanced warning in most variables prior to the bloom, showing trends and between‐lake patterns consistent with theory. In contrast, temporal autocorrelation and both measures of spatial EWS (spatial SD, Moran's  I) provided little or no warning. By compiling time series data from this and past experiments with and without nutrient additions, we were able to evaluate temporal EWS performance for both constant and changing resilience conditions. True positive alarm rates were 2.5–8.3 times higher for rolling window standard deviation when a lake was being pushed towards a bloom than the rate of false positives when it was not. For rolling window autocorrelation, alarm rates were much lower and no variable had a higher true positive than false positive alarm rate. Our findings suggest temporal EWS provide advanced warning of algal blooms and that this approach could help managers prepare for and/or minimize negative bloom impacts.

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Award ID(s):
1753854 2025982
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Ecological Applications
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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