Resilience thinking and optimization are often viewed as opposites, but resilience thinking is more critical of how optimization is frequently applied rather than the technique per-se. A new paper in TREE Integrating resilience thinking and optimisation for conservation (doi:10.1016/j.tree.2009.03.020) by Joern Fischer and others, including myself, attempt to integrate resilience thinking and optimization. We propose that by actively embedding optimisation analyses within a resilience-thinking framework ecosystem management could draw on the complementary strengths of both, thereby promoting cost-effective and enduring conservation outcomes.
The paper’s Table 1 provides an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of optimization for conservation and resilience thinking:
||Optimisation for conservation
|Strengths (inherent)||Recognises resource scarcity||Recognises system complexity|
|Encourages transparency in resource allocation||Recognises interdependence of social and biophysical systems|
|Strengths (in practice)||Can provide specific answers to a well-defined problem||Encourages anticipation of undesirable surprises or thresholds|
|Fits well with how business and governments operate||Encourages reflection on how a system works|
|Weaknesses (inherent)||Sensitive to accuracy of underlying assumptions and system model||Potentially difficult to apply to systems without identifiable alternate states|
|Weaknesses (in practice)||Targets or budget constraints are often informed by politics rather than an in-depth understanding of underlying system dynamics||Reliant on tools from other disciplines to be operational to inform policy|
|The term ‘optimal’ can sound absolute to policymakers and the general public||The term ‘resilience’ can appear vague to policymakers and the general public|
And we discuss three themes that both approaches need to address (i) dealing with social issues; (ii) dealing with uncertainties and the limited extent to which they can be controlled; and (iii) avoiding undesirable states that constrain reversibility.