Marten Scheffer is a theoretical biologist recognized for his work on the stability of complex systems. He has worked on the ecology of lakes but is known particularly for his work on tipping points in complex systems ranging from the brain to ecosystems, the climate system and societies. Scheffer was born in Amsterdam and grew up in the Netherlands. He graduated from Utrecht University with a degree in biology. Working at the national water research institute RIZA he obtained his PhD at Utrecht University. He went on to become a professor of Water Quality at Wageningen University, where he has broadened his field of study since. He is a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences as well as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences in the US.
Scheffer is interested in unravelling the mechanisms that determine the stability and resilience of complex systems. Although much of his work has focused on ecosystems, 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.
Trained as a classical violinist, Scheffer is also a professional musician and has been seeking to connect art and science through cooperative projects including theatre productions and essays. He co-founded the South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies (SARAS) set-up to include arts, humanities and sciences as equal partners in researching complex issues. Scheffer is currently a distinguished professor at Wageningen University where his focus is on catalyzing novel connections between the different research fields.