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Resilience and regime shifts: Assessing cascading effects.

Kinzig, A.P., Ryan, P.A., Etienne, M., Allison, H.E., Elmqvist, T. and Walker, B.H. (2006) Resilience and regime shifts: Assessing cascading effects. In: Walker, B.H., Anderies, J.M., Kinzig, A.P. and Ryan, P.A., (eds.) Exploring Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems: Comparative Studies and Theory Development. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Vic, pp. 139-162.


The last three of four decades have fostered a revolution in the way scientists think about the world: instead of orderly and well behaved, they now view it as complex and uncertain. Many of the authors of this special issue, particularly those who are ecologists, trace the genesis of their thinking on these topics to the seminal paper by Holling in 1973, but many others pioneered and contributed to this growing awareness. A very incomplete list would include Adams (1978) in archeology, Schumpeter (1950) in economics, and Gladstone (1991) in history.

All these thinkers, both names and unnamed, have suggested that the seemingly stable states we see around us in nature and in society, such as woody savannas, democracies, agro-pastoral systems, and nuclear families, can suddenly shift out from underneath us and become something new, with internal controls and aggregate characteristics that are profoundly different from those of the original. The types of changes that involve alterations in internal controls and feedbacks are often called ‘regime shifts’ (Scheffer and Carpenter 2003, Folke et al. 2004). Although it has always been recognized that these regime shifts can occur because of external perturbations, the advances promoted by these pioneer thinkers suggest that these shifts also occur because of complex interactions within the system that operate across scales, with myriad localized interactions among smaller entities serving as a source of adaptation and novelty, and larger-scale emergent constructs such as norms, institutions, or climatic regimes constraining the behaviour and states at smaller scales. This possibility of sudden conversion has profound implications not only for our understanding of how the world is structured but also for how we manage the earth’s environmental systems, including their coupling with our own socioeconomic systems.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Copyright: (c) CSIRO
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