Understanding and Managing for Resilience in the Face of Global Change

Resilience science provides a conceptual framework and methodology for quantitatively assessing the ability of a system to remain in a particular state. Probable non-linear ecological responses to global change, including climate change, require a clear framework for understanding and managing resilience. However, much of the resilience research to date has been qualitative in nature, and frameworks developed for the implementation of resilience science have been either vague or focused on the social component of social-ecological systems. Attempts to quantify resilience and operationalize the concept include the cross-scale resilience model, discontinuity theory and the early detection of leading indicators of regime shifts. More work is needed to support the effective use of resilience theory for managing ecological systems.


We propose to address gaps in the science of ecological resilience in order to develop a usable framework for the implementation of resilience science by natural resource managers. We will do this by accomplishing a series of related but discrete tasks.

1. Synthesize the current state of discontinuity research, the language barriers to communicating complex systems science and discontinuities, and the key criticisms of discontinuity theory in order to present a defined direction for how these criticisms could be addressed and/or tested.
2. Determine whether changes in species abundance can be a leading indicator of system-level regime shifts and an indication of the location of scale breaks within the scales of a system, and test the hypothesis that the location of species with the highest variance in abundance will be non-random.
3. Develop a new conceptual model of the relationship between biodiversity, scale and resilience that accounts for abundance and functional response diversity.
4. Develop a resilience framework for managers from a synthesis of our discussions and basic research.

To accomplish these goals, we will convene a working group of international team of scientists working in a broad range of social-ecological systems. Working group meetings will be arranged to collaboratively address these tasks.

Current Status

We successfully completed all three working group meetings in Fort Collins, Colorado, at the USGS John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis. Numerous publications are being developed as a result of the analytical, data-driven focus of our meetings. One is nearing completion, and three others are in varying stages of development.

Principal Investigator(s)
-Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU
-Shana Sundstrom, UNL
-Kristy Nash, James Cook University, Australia

Graduate Student(s)
-Kristy Nash, Ph.D.
-Shana Sundstrom, Ph.D.

Project Duration
August 2012- December 2015

-U.S. Geological Survey
-Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis

Project Location