Managing for surprise and uncertainty in ecosystems

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Craig Allen

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Resilience is an emergent property of complex systems that provides systems with latitude to absorb disturbance. The term resilience has exploded in usage in recent years, and two competing definitions have risen to the forefront. In addition, an emergent property, resilience is often interpreted as the ability to bounce-back, and under this definition resilience is simply a measure of the amount of time necessary for a system to recover following disturbance. The definition used has implications for restoration. Bounce-back implies that all systems will recover, given sufficient time.  However, this definition of resilience is partial, as complex systems are non-stationary and may have critical thresholds. Non-stationarity means that it is difficult, or impossible, to know what, exactly, to bounce-back to. And a critical threshold means that surpassing that threshold (exceeding the resilience of the system) will cause the system to collapse and reorganize as something possibly very different. Non-stationarity and thresholds are sources of surprise and uncertainty in restoration and ecosystem management. Managing for resilience is an approach that explicitly seeks to avoid critical thresholds. Such an approach fosters resilience of systems that are in desirable states and seeks to erode the resilience of systems in undesirable states in order to transform them to something more desirable. These approaches account for scale and cross-scale interactions and maintaining positive feedbacks. Diversity is important, but the distribution of diversity within and across scales is paramount, as is dealing with both spatial and temporal aspects of scale, ideally in tandem. 

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Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

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Society for Ecological Restoration