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Ecological resilience

January 1, 2016

Resilience is the capacity of complex systems of people and nature to withstand disturbance without shifting into an alternate regime, or a different type of system organized around different processes and structures (Holling, 1973). Resilience theory was developed to explain the non-linear dynamics of complex adaptive systems, like social-ecological systems (SES) (Walker & Salt, 2006). It is often apparent when the resilience of a SES has been exceeded as the system discernibly changes, such as when a thriving city shifts into a poverty trap, but it is difficult to predict when that shift might occur because of the non-linear dynamics of complex systems.

Ecological resilience should not be confused with engineering resilience (Angeler & Allen, 2016), which emphasizes the ability of a SES to perform a specific task consistently and predictably, and to re-establish performance quickly should a disturbance occur. Engineering resilience assumes that complex systems are characterized by a single equilibrium state, and this assumption is not appropriate for complex adaptive systems such as SES. In the risk governance context this means that compounded perturbations derived from hazards or global change can have unexpected and highly uncertain effects on natural resources, humans and societies. These effects can manifest in regime shifts, potentially spurring environmental degradation that might lock SES in an undesirable system state that can be difficult to reverse, and as a consequence economic crises, conflict, human health problems.

Publication Year 2016
Title Ecological resilience
DOI 10.5075/epfl-irgc-228206
Authors Craig R. Allen, Ahjond S. Garmestiani, Shana Sundstrom, David G. Angeler
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70197314
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle