The UC study found that mixed land types don’t stay mixed for long.
“I think it is interesting that this property applies both to natural and human landscapes,” said co-author Nowosad, a former UC postdoctoral researcher who now works as an assistant professor at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland.
Nowosad said the study provides a data-driven model of long-term landscape change. While researchers only looked at changes between forest and agriculture, Nowosad said it would be worthwhile to examine whether tipping points exist for other landscape transitions.
“This model can be used to help understand how landscapes evolved and are going to evolve in the future,” Nowosad said.
Stepinski, a physicist who worked for NASA before coming to UC, said the principle borrows from other disciplines, particularly astrophysics.
“If you look at the evolution of stars, the principle is you predict a long-term path statistically from short-term knowledge,” Stepinski said. “It’s an idea that has been used elsewhere but never for environmental study.”
While it’s only a theory, it’s one that could be borne out by time, he said.
“It’s thought-provoking. My hope is that people will critique it and come up with different ideas,” Stepinski said.