Category Archives: Ecological Management

Why Bother with Walters? Revisiting the “classics” of resilience science

Classic Resilience Readings

Recently at the Stockholm Resilience Centre I’ve been working on update our suggested reading list for our PhD students based on recent research, critiques of various aspects of resilience, and the diversity of research in our centre’s research clusters.  However, I also thought it was important to not just identify the most interesting recent papers but also to identify a set of older (>10 years old) key papers and books that could provide some of the roots of resilience research.

Partly inspired by SRC researcher Wijnand Boonstra’s great initiative to produce a PhD course on the lessons from classic social science for social-ecological research, but also recognizing the shorter history of resilience research, I gave the first of several brief ‘speed talks’ to advertise some of the neglected classics of resilience research that many researchers center are not directly familiar, and explain what useful insights that could offer to them.

Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources

The first key reading I suggested, was Carl J Walters, classic book 1986 Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources.  Below, I describe the book and why it is a classic.  I’ll follow up with some other books and papers over the next few months.

Carl J Walters is a professor at University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre, and while he is a leading fisheries scientist, he has also worked on many non-fisheries related problems, ranging from land-use and logging  in British Columbia to the complex social-ecological problems of the Florida Everglades.

His 1986 book is one of the three key early texts in adaptive management.  Walter’s book is practical, technical and empirical.  While the other books Adaptive Environmental Assessment & Management, edited by CS Holling, and Kai Lee’s Compass & Gyroscope are respectively more diverse, and more theoretical and more focussed on social learning.  While the other books are good, in many ways I think Walter’s book is the key adaptive management reference.

So what is the book about?  In Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources, Carl Walters motivates his approach by arguing that because the world is complex and continually evolving it is essential that resource harvesting, management & environmental policies explicitly confront uncertainty.  When the book was written, his argument that management is improved by an explicit focus on uncertainty was unusual, and continues to be unusual in practice, even though adaptive management has been widely adopted in name, but often not in practice or in only an extremely shallow form that misses the deep engagement with the unknown that Walters advocates.  Indeed while quantitative approaches to risk assessment and hedging have greatly expanded over the past several decades, there has not be an increase in thinking about structural uncertainty, unknown, and surprise.

Walters also proposes that science, practice and policy have a lot to gain from mutual engagement, and he has an early and strong advocate of large scale ecological experiments, and noted that such experiments are often required to build strong ecological policies, and to advance large-scale scientific understanding.  While not highlighted in the book, this perspective also opens the way to ecological models that include models of resource harvester behaviour or management or policy processes

Finally, and indeed in many ways the main part of the book, Walters provides a diverse set of soft and hard methods for actually practicing adaptive management.

So why does this book matter today?

I think that sustainability scientists should read this book, or at least parts of it, for several reasons:

  1. It provides a practical primer on how to think about decisions when considering there is both variation in the world and uncertainty about the rules by which the world works.  Such type of thinking is at the centre of sustainability, because sustainability absolutely requires an increase in our ability to build robust strategies for navigating a turbulent world and for planning how and where to invest in monitoring or learning.  While Walters barely mentions resilience in the book, such approaches are essential to the development of resilient strategies, plans, or policies.
  2. The introductory chapters, especially Chapter 3, provide really useful practical advice on how to think about and run participatory modeling workshops.  Walters focuses on participatory modeling workshops but such approaches are equally useful for thinking about planning scenario or assessment workshops.
  3. The bulk of the book provides a solid, clear introduction to a set of methods for linking data and dynamic models using Bayesian statistics.  These approaches quickly get quite technical and are developed primarily for a fisheries context, but for people who are trying to link models and data in a variety of situations they provide a useful toolbox.
  4. Finally, while resilience and optimization approaches can complement one another in theory they are often presented as conflicting in practice (see: Fischer et al 2009  vs.  Holling & Meffe 1996).  This book, clearly links optimization approaches to resilience, and demonstrates by changing what variables are the focus of optimization, optimization approaches can be useful for improving decisions about how to invest in resilience and can provide an good understanding of tradeoffs.


Holling, C. S., & Meffe, G. K. (1996). Command and control and the pathology of natural resource management. Conservation Biology10(2), 328-337.

Fischer et al (2009) Integrating resilience thinking and optimisation for conservation. TREE24, 549–54.

Walters, C. 1986. Adaptive management of renewable resources. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, NY374. (note the book was out of print for a long time and is now reprinted by Blackburn press.)

James C Scott on the value of an anarchist squint

Political scientist James C. Scott, author of a series of ground breaking books that explore some of political and anthropological aspects of resilience has a new book out Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play.

On this blog I’ve frequently mentioned his book “Seeing Like a State“, and also enjoyed his “The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia” with its interesting perspectives on state resistance.  I found it particular interesting due to the connections I could see between his work on fugitive societies from the state, resonated with my own experience working with and researching Maroons in the Americas.

He introduces his new book with a preface which argues for the value of an “anarchist squint,” which I believe has many resonances with resilience research.  In the preface (pdf) he writes:

James C. Scott in his preface to his new book “Two Cheers for Anarchism:”

Lacking a comprehensive anarchist worldview and philosophy, and in any case wary of nomothetic ways of seeing, I am making a case for a sort of anarchist squint. What I aim to show is that if you put on anarchist glasses and look at the history of popular movements, revolutions, ordinary politics, and the state from that angle, certain insights will appear that are obscured from almost any other angle. It will also become apparent that anarchist principles are active in the aspirations and political action of people who have never heard of anarchism or anarchist philosophy. One thing that heaves into view, I believe, is what Pierre-Joseph Proudhon had in mind when he first used the term “anarchism,” namely, mutuality, or cooperation without hierarchy or state rule. Another is the anarchist tolerance for confusion and improvisation that accompanies social learning, and confidence in spontaneous cooperation and reciprocity. Here Rosa Luxemburg’s preference, in the long run, for the honest mistakes of the working class over the wisdom of the executive decisions of a handful of vanguard party elites is indicative of this stance.  My claim, then, is fairly modest. These glasses, I think, offer a sharper image and better depth of field than most of the alternatives.

Scott goes on to define what he means by an anarchist squint:

My anarchist squint involves a defense of politics, conflict, and debate, and the perpetual uncertainty and learning they entail. This means that I reject the major stream of utopian scientism that dominated much of anarchist thought around the turn of the twentieth century. In light of the huge strides in industry, chemistry, medicine, engineering, and transportation, it was no wonder that high modernist optimism on the right and the left led to the belief that the problem of scarcity had, in principle, been solved. Scientific progress, many believed, had uncovered the laws of nature, and with them the means to solve the problems of subsistence, social organization, and institutional design on a scientific basis. As men became more rational and knowledgeable, science would tell us how we should live, and politics would no longer be necessary. …. For many anarchists the same  vision of progress pointed the way toward an economy in which the state was beside the point. Not only have we subsequently learned both that material plenty, far from banishing politics, creates new spheres of political struggle but also that statist socialism was less “the administration of ” things than the trade union of the ruling class protecting its privileges.

Unlike many anarchist thinkers, I do not believe that the state is everywhere and always the enemy of freedom.

Nor do I believe that the state is the only institution that endangers freedom. To assert so would be to ignore a long and deep history of pre-state slavery, property in women, warfare, and bondage. It is one thing to disagree utterly with Hobbes about the nature of society before the existence of the state (nasty, brutish, and short) and another to believe that “the state of nature” was an unbroken landscape of communal property, cooperation, and peace.

The last strand of anarchist thought I definitely wish to distance myself from is the sort of libertarianism that tolerates (or even encourages) great differences in wealth, property, and status. Freedom and (small “d”) democracy are, in conditions of rampant inequality, a cruel sham as Bakunin understood. There is no authentic freedom where huge differences make voluntary agreements or exchanges nothing more than legalized plunder.

What is clear to anyone except a market fundamentalist (of the sort who would ethically condone a citizen’s selling himself—voluntarily, of course—as a chattel slave) is that democracy is a cruel hoax without relative equality. This, of course, is the great dilemma for an anarchist. If relative equality is a necessary condition of mutuality and freedom, how can it be guaranteed except through the state? Facing this conundrum, I believe that both theoretically and practically, the abolition of the state is not an option. We are stuck, alas, with Leviathan, though not at all for the reasons Hobbes had supposed, and the challenge is to tame it. That challenge may well be beyond our reach.

For more on Scott, here is a profile in the New York Times and his entry in Wikipedia.  Here are some reviews of “Two cheers” from a diverse set of places: Wall Street Journal, the Coffin Factory, the LA Review of Books, and Fortune Magazine.

Tim Daw on ecosystem services tradeoffs

  • In the video below Tim Daw, from the University of East Anglia’s School of International Development and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, explains his project Participatory Modelling of Wellbeing Tradeoffs in Coastal Kenya. The project, in which I’m also participating, has examined tradeoffs between social wellbeing and ecological conservation in small scale fisheries in Kenya using a combination surveys, models, scenarios, and participatory workshops.

For more information on the project is available on the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s website. The project is funded by the UK’s Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation programme. and there is more information on the ESPA website.

For more on poverty and ecosystem service tradeoffs see:

  • Bennett, E.M., Peterson, G.D. & Gordon, L.J. (2009) Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services. Ecology letters, 12, 1394–404. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01387.x
  • Daw, T., Brown, K., Rosendo, S. & Pomeroy, R. 2011. Applying the ecosystem services concept to poverty alleviation: the need to disaggregate human well-being. Environmental Conservation, 38, 370–379. DOI: 10.1017/S0376892911000506
  • Raudsepp-Hearne, C., Peterson, G.D. & Bennett, E.M. 2010. Ecosystem service bundles for analyzing tradeoffs in diverse landscapes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 5242–7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0907284107

No surprise to Buzz Holling: Non-linear response of seabirds to forage fish depletion

Guest post from Henrik Österblom from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Basic ecology rests firmly on a number of basic assumptions.  Some of these assumptions, specifically how predators interaction with their prey, were developed by a key figure in the history of resilience – Buzz Holling. The Holling type I, II and III functional responses are standard material in many textbooks in ecology (here’s wikipedia on functional response).  The different functional responses reflect the prey consumption ratio as a function of food density.  I learned about these different types of functional response more than a decade before coming across anything related to resilience theory, which is perhaps not surprising as the first papers published by Holling on the topic came out in the late 1950s (Holling 1959).

The different functional responses reflect different ways in which predator consumption of prey varies  with changes in food density. The functional response is also related to the numerical response – the reproduction rate in relation to food abundance. If this is too technical, bear with me.

Different types of functional response.

As shown above, a type I functional response is linear – meaning that more prey means that more prey are consumed – straightforward and simple. A type II response is non-linear – the number of prey consumed/reproduction increases initially but reaches a plateau at a certain prey density, as the predator ability to consume prey is gradually saturated. A type III response is more complex and S shaped, with a slow increase in prey consumed/reproduction, due to difficulty in discovering  prey, followed by an increase and subsequent leveling off, as predators are saturated (for more background see here).

What has all this got to do with seabirds?

Seabirds are some of the most conspicuous components of the marine environment and are also well studied throughout the world. Many places where seabirds are studied also have monitoring programs for their prey. Seabirds prey on small pelagic, fat schooling fish – some of which are very important in the rapidly growing aquaculture and meat production sectors.

Recently, I was part of a large group of scientists who analyzed long-term data collected of seabird breeding success, for a range of seabird species breeding throughout the world, including puffins, murres, gulls and penguins. Several of these data sets had previously indicated a type I, or possibly a type II response in some instances, but the evidence were inconclusive. However – when putting all the data together, an interesting pattern emerged – the data indicated a clear type II response!What was even more interesting was that this response was consistent across ecosystems and species.  All ecosystems and species investigated had a very similar level of the threshold – regardless of latitude or foraging strategy. Although we assumed that there would be some nonlinear response in all ecosystems and species, we did not think the threshold would be so similar in where it was located (i.e., at one third of the maximum observed fish biomass).

The key figure from our paper is below.

Fig. 2 (A) Relationship between normalized annual breeding success of seabirds and normalized prey abundance. Each data point from all the time series was plotted with the predictions of a generalized additive model (GAM) (solid line). The gray area represents the 95% confidence interval of the fitted GAM. The threshold in the nonlinear relationship (black solid vertical line) and its 95% confidence interval (black dashed vertical lines) were detected from a change-point analysis. (B) Change in variance across the range of normalized food abundance ranging from –1.5 to 2 standard deviations in eight classes. Variance below the threshold was 1.8 times higher than above it. (C and D) Similar relationships were present when data were pooled (C) for species within ecosystems and (D) for species pooled among ecosystems using the best-fitting asymptotic model (table S2). The Arctic Tern (not shown) model fit was not significant (table S1). The colors in (A) and (C) represent the data set for each ecosystem and in (D) for each seabird species.

The findings, just published in Science (Cury et al. 2011), show that seabirds are unable to increase their breeding output over a certain prey abundance. However, if the amount of prey falls below a threshold – which we estimated at one third of the observed maximum prey abundance – breeding success drops dramatically. This non-linear response has potentially important implications for management: If forage fish stocks are maintained above the identified threshold – seabird breeding success is likely sustainable. However, if fish stocks are harvested to below this level for extended periods of time, we are likely to observe decreasing breeding success and decreasing seabird populations. The study suggests that the one-third rule of thumb can be used as a precautionary guiding principle for marine management. So, potentially, we can use some basic principles from ecology to arrive at some basic principles for marine resource use.

The study highlights the importance of curiosity driven research and long term monitoring program. These monitoring programs were not primarily intended to inform management of marine resources but were instead set up by individuals with a keen interest in basic seabird ecology The study also underlines the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration for producing fun and exciting syntheses. Most of all, it highlights how rewarding it is to work with seabirds – coolest critters on the planet.  Seabirds occupy some of the most remote and harsh habitats on the planet and are incredibly resilient – until critical thresholds are passed.


Cury, P.M., Boyd, I.L., Bonhommeau, S., Anker-Nilssen, T. Crawford, R. J. M., Furness, R.W., Mills, J.A., Murphy, E.J., Österblom, H., Paleczny, M., Piatt, J.F., Roux, J.-P., Shannon, L., Sydeman, W.J., 2011 Global Seabird Response to Forage Fish Depletion —One-Third for the Birds. Science 334 (6063), December 23. (DOI: 10.1126/science.1212928 )

Holling, C. S. 1959. The components of predation as revealed by a study of small-mammal predation of the European pine sawfly. Canadian Entomologist 91: 293-320

Climate Stablization Wedges – an update, responses and critiques

A well know proposed strategy for reducing carbon emissions was the 2004 “wedges” paper in by ecologist Stephen Pacala and engineer Robert Socolow (Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1100103). For more on wedges see Carbon Mitigation Initiative website at Princeton.

Robert Socolow has recently published an update on the wedges paper, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which discusses the failures of their proposal, he reaffirms the wedges approach and argues that they should have presented their work differently – specifically:

…advocates for prompt action, of whom I am one, also bear responsibility for the poor quality of the discussion and the lack of momentum. Over the past seven years, I wish we had been more forthcoming with three messages: We should have conceded, prominently, that the news about climate change is unwelcome, that today’s climate science is incomplete, and that every “solution” carries risk. I don’t know for sure that such candor would have produced a less polarized public discourse. But I bet it would have. Our audiences would have been reassured that we and they are on the same team — that we are not holding anything back and have the same hopes and fears.

and he proposes that:

To motivate prompt action today, seven years later, our wedges paper needs supplements: insights from psychology and history about how unwelcome news is received, probing reports about the limitations of current climate science, and sober assessments of unsafe braking.

There are responses onThe Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website and Climate Central that include the Nicholas Stern and others.

Andrew Revkin on DotEarth has an number of US and energy oriented comments from earth system scientist Ken Caldeira, my former colleague at McGill economist Chris Green and others as well as response from Socolow.

Rob Hopkins from Transition Town movement presents a view from local sustainability action.  He worries that the wedges approach can actually make our current situaiton worse – in Giving Robert Socolow a Wedgie (so to speak). He argues that systemic strategies that improve local resilience could be much more successful by addressing multiple issues that focusing on energy and CO2.

Socolow argues that part of the blame for the fact that the world hasn’t adopted the wedges approach can be laid at the door of the environmental movement, for being so upbeat and chipper about the impacts and not acknowledging that there will be ‘pain’ alongside the ‘gain’ (as it were).  …  I think it is far more likely that most of Pacala and Socolow’s wedges are, ultimately, unfeasible due to their own energy intensity and cost in a contracting global economy.

Socolow and Pacala’s wedges were conceived and proposed solely as responses to climate change.  Yet, of course, climate change is not the only challenge we face.  As the World Economic Forum’s recently-released analysis of the risks facing the world over the next 10 years identified, extreme energy price volatility and the fiscal crisis sit alongside climate change, closely followed by economic disparity, collectively leading the field in terms of risks we need to be building resilience to as a matter of urgency

Stafford Beer on Ross Ashby

Here is some old time systems theory from my Swedish summer reading.

Stafford Beer on Ross Ashby‘s Law of Requisite Variety in his paper “The Viable System Model: Its Provenance, Development, Methodology and Pathology” in The Journal of the Operational Research Society, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1984), pp. 7-25

It has always seemed to me that Ashby’s Law stands to management science as Newton’s Laws stand to physics; it is central to a coherent account of complexity control. “Only variety can destroy variety.” People have found it tautologous; but all mathematics is either tautologous or wrong. People have found it truistic; in that case, why do managers constantly act as if it were false? Monetary controls do not have requisite variety to regulate the economy. The Finance Act does not have requisite variety to regulate tax evasion. Police procedures do not have requisite variety to suppress crime. And so on. All these regulators could be redesigned according to cybernetic principles…

Much more on Beer and Ashby can be found in Andrew Pickering’s fine book – the Cybernetic Brain – sketches of another future.

Three new positions in ecosystem services research at McGill University

We’re looking to hire three new people to join our team working on the role of landscape structure and biodiversity in the provision of ecosystem services. The new positions include a postdoc to work on developing models of ecosystem services, a PhD position in historical ecosystem ecology,  and a (part time) project manager. We’re working in the Montérégie, a lovely agricultural landscape just southeast of Montreal.

For more about the project, check out our website:

Here’s more detail on each of the three positions:

Postdoctoral researcher

We are seeking an outstanding postdoctoral researcher to be a part of a dynamic multi-lab team that is mapping and modeling past, present, and future provision of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the agricultural landscape around Montréal. The primary research project would involve synthesizing historical and current geospatial data to evaluate how landscape configuration effects the provision of ecosystem services in this region. This analysis will inform the development a spatial model of the provision of ecosystem services under different land use/land cover configurations in the greater Montreal region.

A successful candidate will have a PhD in a related field (e.g., Geography, Ecology); experience with ecosystem modeling techniques, including GIS and computer programming; and be familiar with the literature on ecosystem services. The applicant should have a good publication record and a demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a large team. Capacity to read and speak French is a plus.

The successful applicant would be primarily based in the lab of Dr. Elena Bennett at McGill’s Macdonald Campus, but would also be supervised by the co-PIs on the project, including Dr. Jeanine Rhemtulla (Geography), Dr. Andrew Gonzalez (Biology), and Dr. Martin Lechowicz (Biology). An office on McGill’s downtown campus will also be provided. Salary will be $35,000 per annum plus standard McGill benefits. We encourage applicants of all nationalities to apply.

Applicants should submit a CV, a statement detailing how their research interests align with the focus of the project, and the names and contact information for three references. Start date is targeted for January 2012. Please submit applications by September 1, 2011 to: Elena Bennett (elena dot bennett at mcgill dot ca)

PhD Student in Historical Ecosystem Ecology

We are seeking a PhD student interested in historical ecology, landscape ecology, and ecosystem services to be a part of a dynamic multi-lab team that is mapping and modeling past, present, and future provision of ecosystem services in the agricultural landscape around Montreal. The student’s project would involve examining historical records to estimate past provision of ecosystem services, interpretation of historical air photos and other maps, and modeling relationships between land use, spatial configuration, and ecosystem services through time. There is considerable room for a student to develop their own project within these general parameters.

A successful candidate should have an MSc degree in a related field, experience with GIS, remote sensing, or other ecosystem modeling techniques, and an ability to work independently and as part of a large team. Ability to read and speak French is a plus.

The successful applicant could be a PhD student in either Geography or Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University and would be co-supervised by Dr. Elena Bennett and Dr. Jeanine Rhemtulla. McGill University, located in Montreal, QC, is one of Canada’s top universities and boasts a large international student population.

Applicants should submit a CV, a statement of research interests, a copy of their transcripts, and the names and contact information for two references. Start date is targeted for Fall 2012. Please submit applications to: Jeanine Rhemtulla and Elena Bennett (jeanine dot rhemtulla at mcgill dot ca) and (elena dot bennett at mcgill dot ca)

Project Manager (Part Time)

We are seeking an organized, energetic, and enthusiastic project manager for a new project about biodiversity, connectivity, and ecosystem services in the settled landscapes of the greater Montreal region. The project involves a large team of professors and their students (~30 people total) working on both the fundamental and applied aspects of this research. Our project seeks to understand how past and future land use change will affect habitat connectivity, biodiversity, and the provision of multiple ecosystem services. Policy makers and managers often must make decisions with limited rigorous information about how to manage for sustainable landscapes. In order to improve the link between science and decision making our project includes actively engaged partners from local cities, counties, NGOs, as well as regional and provincial government. Our research will improve both the science and decision-making required to manage for sustainable and resilient landscapes.

Project management would include:

  • Managing the activities and people associated with the project and ensure that we are meeting project goals
  • Ensure communication across the researchers involved with the project
  • Management of GIS data central to the project, creation of geodatabases
  • Coordinating and tracking the project budget
  • Maintaining communication with our project partners
  • Identify opportunities for improving and enhancing the project

We seek a project manager who is self-motivated, extremely organized, and has experience running a major research project or managing a research team. Because the project manager would also have a role in managing geodatabases for the project, experience with GIS and geodatabase management is also important. A graduate degree (M.Sc. or PhD) in environmental sciences would be an advantage. The position will involve considerable communication with our local management partners, so the successful applicant must be bilingual (French/English).

We envision a part-time (up to 3 days/week) position with a salary of approximately $20,000 per annum.

Applicants should submit a CV, a statement of interests and experience, and contact information for three references. Start date is targeted for Fall 2011. Please submit applications by July 1, 2011 to: Elena Bennett (elena dot bennett at mcgill dot ca)

Nobel Symposium in Stockholm

I just argued the human role in the Anthropocene with Will Steffen at the 2011 Nobel Laureate Symposium in Stockholm.  In a mock court, in front of a jury of Nobelists, I successfully argued that:

1) Humanity has pushed the Earth out of the Holocene epoch, but 4) Humanity can prosper, in the Anthropocene

2) Humanity has substantial capacity to cope with tipping points, they do not represent “catastrophic change” (from the perspective of humanity).

3) Humanity needs learn how to cope with a novel, turbulent world requires change – based on learning, experimentation, diversity.

The rest of the symposium is is being broadcast on the web.

The symposium’s website provides a description of the meeting:

This third Nobel Laureate Symposium will focus on the need for integrated approaches that deal with the synergies, conflicts and trade-offs between the individual components of climate change.

Climate change, decreasing biodiversity, deteriorating ecosystems, poverty and a continuously growing population all contribute to reducing the planet’s resilience and may have catastrophic implications for humanity.

Each of these problems has attracted great attention from the international community, but they have invariably been considered in isolation, with little or no regard to the interactions between them.

It is time to change this approach.

The Symposium is organized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, Stockholm Environment Institute, Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics and Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research.

The Symposium, organised with the participation and support of HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, will provide an informal setting for productive discussions on how we can transform current governance into a more sustainable and adaptive management approach that operates within the boundaries of the planet.

It will take place at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm between 16-19 May and will include a mix of plenary presentations, panel discussions and working group sessions. The Symposium will be concluded with a Royal dinner hosted by HM Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

Interesting recent resilience papers

A few recent papers on resilience are quite exciting.  Below are brief pointers to them.  Hopefully we will have more time to right about them in the future.

  1. Steve Carpenter and colleagues Early Warnings of Regime Shifts: A Whole-Ecosystem Experiment in Science (DOI:10.1126/science.1203672)
    Uses experimental lakes to show that early warning signs of regime shifts can be detected (with high frequency monitoring).
  2. Kendra McSweeney and Oliver Coomes Climate-related disaster opens a window of opportunity for rural poor in northeastern Honduras PNAS 108(13) 5203-5208 (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1014123108)
    Response of a community in Honduras to Hurricane Mitch shows that disasters can provide opportunities for the poor.
  3. JP Evans Resilience, ecology and adaptation in the experimental city. Transactions of Institute of British Geographers 36 (2): 223-237 (DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2010.00420.x)
    A geographer reflects on the consequences of resilience approaches to cities – especially Urban LTER in USA.
  4. Bill Currie Units of nature or processes across scales? The ecosystem concept at age 75.  New Phytologist 109(1) 21-34. (DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03646.x)
    An ecosystem ecologist looks at the history, problems, and possible future of the ecosystem concept.

Revisiting Ostrom’s Design principles for community-based Natural Resource Management

In her talk at Resilience 2011, Elinor Ostrom recommended a recent paper by her colleagues that reviews 91 studies that empirically evaluated her design principles for for resilient institutions for the management of common pool resources.

Cox, M., G. Arnold, and S. Villamayor Tomás. 2010. A review of design principles for community-based natural resource management. Ecology and Society 15(4): 38. [online] URL:

The authors found that her principals were well supported. They provide a reformulation of the design principals, by dividing each of the components 1,2, and 4 into two parts and keeping the remaining principals as they are.  Their revised principles are below:

Principle Description
1A User boundaries: Clear boundaries between legitimate users and nonusers must be clearly defined.
1B Resource boundaries: Clear boundaries are present that define a resource system and separate it from the larger biophysical environment.
2A Congruence with local conditions: Appropriation and provision rules are congruent with local social and environmental conditions.
2B Appropriation and provision: The benefits obtained by users from a common-pool resource (CPR), as determined by appropriation rules, are proportional to the amount of inputs required in the form of labor, material, or money, as determined by provision rules.
3 Collective-choice arrangements: Most individuals affected by the operational rules can participate in modifying the operational rules.
4A Monitoring users: Monitors who are accountable to the users monitor the appropriation and provision levels of the users.
4B Monitoring the resource: Monitors who are accountable to the users monitor the condition of the resource.
5 Graduated sanctions: Appropriators who violate operational rules are likely to be assessed graduated sanctions (depending on the seriousness and the context of the offense) by other appropriators, by officials accountable to the appropriators, or by both.
6 Conflict-resolution mechanisms: Appropriators and their officials have rapid access to low-cost local arenas to resolve conflicts among appropriators or between appropriators and officials.
7 Minimal recognition of rights to organize: The rights of appropriators to devise their own institutions are not challenged by external governmental authorities.
8 Nested enterprises: Appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.

Michael Cox et al conclude:

a probabilistic, rather than deterministic, interpretation of the design principles is warranted. Likewise, we remain uncertain as to whether the principles may apply to systems at a variety of scales. Ultimately, however, the design principles are robust to empirical testing in our analysis of 91 studies. Thus, we conclude that they are a sound basis for future research conducted to further disentangle the interactive effects of relevant variables, both within and across multiple environmental and social scales.

Aside from our empirical analysis, we dealt with an important theoretical debate regarding the principles: Are they inherently part of a blueprint approach to CPR management or can they be combined with a more diagnostic approach? We think the latter is the case, and this points us in a specific direction for future research. Each of the aforementioned empirical complications could likely be addressed by approaching CPR management from a diagnostic perspective. This is a process that helps to sort out what is important in a CPR setting, when, and why. We hope to see and plan to participate in future work to develop this approach further.

Cox, M., G. Arnold, and S. Villamayor Tomás (2010). A review of design principles for community-based natural resource management Ecology and Society, 15 (4)