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Growing resilience in a changing world

04
Nov 2019
Graeme Cumming

Posted By

Graeme Cumming

A recent paper, published in Nature Sustainability, offers a structured and practical approach to measuring and using the concept of social-ecological resilience.

Social-ecological systems are linked systems of people and nature. This includes farming, irrigation, or fisheries.

Social-ecological resilience is a system property that facilitates an outcome—system persistence—that is often important to people.

For example, a resilient coral reef is one that will maintain coral cover even under high levels of anthropogenic stress. It’s this persistence of social-ecological systems that people depend upon that is vital for future wellbeing.

However, researchers and decision-makers lack a shared understanding of resilience. The practical applications in environmental resource management are rare.

The study defines social-ecological resilience as a property of systems that include at least three main characteristics—robustness, resistance, and recovery time (the ‘three Rs’).

Socio-economic resilience management includes planning, adaptation and transformational actions that may influence these system characteristics. These governance and management activities striving to maintain social-ecological systems that are important to people can benefit from quantitative measures of resilience. These can be used to guide decisions and choices, set targets and objectives, and monitor progress.

For instance, when growing crops, it’s risky to only look at how much water is available and how much is needed; planning for the variability in water supply, how much water needs to be stored, and how upstream water demand may change are also important.

If farming sustainably is no longer viable, then a more resilient strategy is needed. This can include increasing the reserve water supply, diversifying the kinds of crops grown to include some that are less water-dependent, or branching out to develop other income sources (e.g., provide accommodation and river access for recreational fishers).

The ‘three Rs’, when trying to measure and operationalise ideas about social-ecological resilience, capture the most important elements of resilience while being easier to measure directly than resilience itself.

The paper embeds the three measures in a seven-step process of resilience assessment, vital for researchers and decision-makers alike.

PAPER

Grafton Q, Doyen L, Béné C, Borgomeo E, Brooks K, Chu L, Cumming G, Dixon J, Dovers S, Garrick D, Helfgott A, Jiang Q, Katic P, Kompas T, Little R, Matthews N, Ringler C, Squires D, Steinshamn S, Villasante S, Wheeler S, Williams J, Wyrwoll P (2019). Nature Sustainability. ‘Realizing resilience for decision-making’. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-019-0376-1

A fisherman returning from the sea. Credit: Michele Barnes
A fisherman returning from the sea. Credit: Michele Barnes

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au