New Directions for Understanding the Spatial Resilience of Social-Ecological Systems

Last modified: 
December 13, 2019 - 9:45pm
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2017
Date published: 06/2017
Authors: Graeme Cumming, Tiffany Morrison, Terence Hughes
Journal title: Ecosystems
Volume: 20
Issue: 4
Pages: 649 - 664
ISSN: 1432-9840

The concept of spatial resilience has brought a new focus on the influence of multi-scale processes on the dynamics of ecosystems. Initial ideas about spatial resilience focused on coral reefs and emphasized escalating anthropogenic disturbances across the broader seascape. This perspective resonated with a new awareness of global drivers of change, such as growth in international trade and shifts in climate, and the need to respond by scaling up governance and management. We review recent trends and emerging ideas in spatial resilience, using coral reefs and dependent communities as exemplars of multi-scale social–ecological systems. Despite recent advances, management and governance of ecosystems remain spatially fragmented and constrained to small scales. Temporally, many interventions still miss or ignore warning signals and struggle to cope with history, politics, long-term cumulative pressures, feedbacks, and sudden surprises. Significant recent progress has been made in understanding the relevance of spatial and temporal scale, heterogeneity, networks, the importance of place, and multi-scale governance. Emerging themes include better integration of ecology and conservation with social and economic science, and incorporating temporal dynamics in spatial analyses. A better understanding of the multi-scale spatial and temporal processes that drive the resilience of linked social-ecosystems will help address the widespread mismatch between the scales of ongoing ecological change and effective long-term governance of land- and seascapes.

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