What is Resilience?

Mulutseribu Seaweed Farms, Indonesia. Photo © Kevin Arnold

Resilience is defined as the ability of a system to maintain key functions and processes in the face of stresses or pressures by resisting to and then recovering or adapting to change. ref It can be applied to both ecological systems, including temperate, tropical, and polar regions, and social systems (e.g., human communities).

Components

Resilience includes three components: 1) resistance; 2) recovery; and 3) transformation. Resistance refers to the ability of a system to tolerate impacts, while recovery refers to the ability of a system to bounce back. Transformation refers to the direction of ecosystem change from a historic baseline in response to certain conditions. ref The modern concept of resilience emphasizes the ability of coupled social-ecological systems to persist while facing disturbance and change, adapt to future challenges, and transform in ways that sustain the ability to function and provide ecosystem services. ref

Ecological Resilience

Ecological resilience refers to the ability of an ecosystem, such as a coral reef, to maintain key functions and processes in the face of stresses or pressures, by resisting and then adapting to change. ref Resilient ecosystems are characterized as adaptable, flexible, and able to deal with change and uncertainty, without switching to alternate stable states. ref For example, a resilient coral reef system is able to absorb threats without switching to an algae-dominated state. ref

The ecological resilience of a reef system is largely determined by two components (see graphic below):

  • Resistance – the extent that corals can withstand threats (e.g., sea surface temperature variations, genetic identity of corals, severity of local threats)
  • Recovery – the ability of coral communities to rebound after significant mortality (e.g., with favorable recruitment conditions, grazing by herbivores)
Conceptual resilience model for coral reefs adapted from Ken Anthony. Source: atlas.org.au

Conceptual resilience model for coral reefs adapted from Ken Anthony. Source: opens in a new windowatlas.org.au

Social Resilience

Social resilience is defined as the ability of a human community to cope with and adapt to threats such as social, political, environmental, or economic change. Resilient communities are better equipped to cope with change and uncertainty which enables them to take proactive measures to secure their future. It is important for managers to work with reef-dependent communities and understand their vulnerability to changes in reef condition and to support adaptation efforts. ref

Sorting fish at the Brontong fish market in Indonesia. Photo © Ed Wray

Sorting fish at the Brontong fish market in Indonesia. Photo © Ed Wray

Vulnerability is a measure of the ability of human communities to withstand shocks and stresses to livelihood and wellbeing and is key to understanding social resilience. Vulnerability includes the following components: ref

  • Exposure – degree to which communities are affected by change (e.g., exposure of communities to disturbances that threaten their livelihoods or use of reef resources)
  • Sensitivity – dependency of a community and individuals on reef resources (e.g., livelihoods solely associated with fishing or tourism)
  • Adaptive capacity – ability to convert resources (including financial, natural, human, social, and physical) to respond to disturbance and change
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