Sources of Social-Ecological Resilience: The LTER Network as a Testbed to Explore General Patterns of Adjustment to Rapid Changes

Final Report (Required, .pdf format only) : 
Terry Chapin

Resilience has matured substantially as a system concept since Holling first applied the concept to ecological systems (Holling 1973). The literature has developed exponentially in the last quarter-century (Jansson et al.). It has been extended to apply to social systems (Westley et al. 2002) and to social-ecological systems. Finally it has been increasingly integrated into other literatures such as vulnerability analysis and sustainability science (e.g., Turner et al. 2003, Clark et al. 2003) and included in policy documents that address societal responses to climate change. Despite the increasing recognition of the importance of resilience as a way in which social-ecological systems adjust to rapid change, the practical application of the concept and efforts to quantify resilience have been restricted primarily to individual case studies. The LTER network provides an opportunity to explore components of resilience across broad ecological and social gradients to determine if there are general patterns. We hypothesize that all systems have sources of vulnerability and resilience to change, but we don’t know how these sources of resilience vary along gradients that are represented by the LTER network.

The LTER network is maturing intellectually in ways that facilitate its use as a testbed to explore gradients in social-ecological resilience. There is increasing interest and incentive for sites to participate in cross-site activities. The EcoTrends project is beginning to assemble cross-site databases of information that characterizes some components of resilience, and the ISSE framework developed by the LTER network sets the stage for study of LTER sites as social-ecological systems, which incorporates many of the sources of vulnerability and resilience that are important globally.

We suggest a workshop at the LTER All-Scientist Meeting that builds on past cross-site efforts to assess sources of vulnerability and resilience across the LTER network. There are two primary goals of the workshop: (1) to develop a common approach across the LTER network for conceptualizing resilience and for documenting sources of vulnerability and resilience (i.e., an educational/training objective) and (2) to describe sources of vulnerability (“resilient to what?”) and the critical ecosystem services that are important to society (“resilience of what?”). The starting point for the workshop will be two databases that were assembled in previous cross-site workshops. This are a list of disturbances that characterize each site (Peters et al. submitted) and a list of critical ecosystem services that are sensitive to perturbations (Kinzig et al. in prep).

We will ask each site to nominate one person to participate in the workshop and will also ask for representation from the LTER graduate students and from the EcoTrends project. Prior to the workshop we will send to all the invited participants a set of hypotheses that have emerged from the vulnerability and resilience literatures about sources of vulnerability and resilience. During the workshop we will discuss each of these hypotheses (a brief presentation, followed by discussion) to assess current LTER evidence for the hypothesis, modifications that might improve the hypothesis, and simple data analyses that might be done test the hypothesis. We also expect that new hypotheses will emerge and some current hypotheses will be dropped or substantially modified during the workshop. For example, we hypothesize that diversity enhances resilience by increasing the options available to respond to new circumstances.

Session Info

Working Group Session 6

Wed, 09/16/2009 - 1:30pm - 3:30pm

Working Group Session 7

Wed, 09/16/2009 - 4:00pm - 6:00pm
Longs Peak Chasm Lake