- Her research focuses on regime shifts — large, abrupt, long-lasting changes that can have dramatic impacts on human economies and societies
- She initiated and co-leads the Southern African Program on Ecosystem change and Society, a network of leading social-ecological researchers working in southern Africa
- She has authored or co-authored over 30 scientific articles and 20 book chapters
Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs' research focuses on regime shifts and contributing practical scientific theory, methods and insights that can improve society's ability to anticipate high-impact tipping points, and build resilience to undesirable changes
Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs is a Society in Science Fellow funded by the Branco Weiss foundation. She is also a Research Fellow in the Centre for Studies in Complexity at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.
Her research focuses on regime shifts — large, abrupt, long-lasting changes in the dynamics of coupled social-ecological systems that can have dramatic impacts on human economies and societies. Biggs aims to contribute practical scientific theory, methods and insights that can improve society's ability to anticipate high-impact tipping points, and build resilience to undesirable changes. Her core research activities focus on the following key areas:
- Developing a Regime Shifts Database to provide a high-quality synthesis of different types of regime shifts that have been documented in social-ecological systems, their impacts on ecosystem services, and management options.
- Developing methods for assessing which areas on Earth are most vulnerable to particular regime shifts, using GIS and remote sensing methods.
- Examining the economic trade-offs associated with balancing the risk of potential regime shifts against the benefits of ecosystem exploitation, in collaboration with researchers at the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics.
Biggs also initiated and co-leads the Southern African Program on Ecosystem change and Society, a network of leading social-ecological researchers working in southern Africa to develop new theory and tools and grow capacity in the SES field, and one of the core case studies within the ICSU Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS).
Biggs completed her PhD studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008. Her thesis Uncertainty, learning and innovation in ecosystem managemen included the use of Hierarchical Bayesian Models to show how uncertainties about the nature of ecological relationships may be highlighted by integrating results from multiple studies.
Another aspect of her dissertation work focused on the question of whether regime shifts can be detected (through approaches such as increasing variance) with sufficient lead time to change management in ways that avert undesirable regime shifts.
She also investigated, using social science methodologies, factors that encourage innovation and transformation in ecosystem management based on case studies in South Africa, Wisconsin and Sweden.
Prior to her PhD studies, Biggs spent four years at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria, South Africa, working on the Southern African Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.
She was particularly involved in the scenario planning aspects of the assessment, as well as issues of cross-scale links. Her Masters thesis, which was tied to the Millennium Assessment, involved the development of a new policy-relevant indicator for assessing biodiversity condition, namely the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), published in Nature in 2005.
Biggs has authored or co-authored over 30 scientific articles and 20 book chapters.
News articles with Biggs, Oonsie
Research news | 2021-08-26
Why local realities are crucial to global environmental assessments
Locally, bottom-up-inspired futures are missing from global environmental assessments. A new method tested on the UN’s Global Environment Outlook 6 hopes to change this
Research news | 2021-07-03
Groundbreaking book on methods to study social-ecological systems
Open-access book covers 28 broad groups of methods, featuring contributions from almost a hundred authors in 16 countries
Research news | 2021-02-19
On “Patchwork Earth”, there is no one-size-fits-all road to sustainability
Three ways science and policy can incorporate more of the diversity and complexity of the world when thinking about the future
Research news | 2020-12-08
Centre contributes to National Academies of Sciences workshop on the state of sustainability science
The session provided scientific input to the Nobel Prize Summit “Our Planet, Our Future” to be held in Spring 2021