Image courtesy of Reuters.

The article suggests that both resistance and recovery play an important role in the resilience of natural systems. Image courtesy of Reuters.

The Rocky Road to Resilience

The resilience of natural systems to disturbances might be crucial to their persistence, but what does resilience actually mean? Does it mean resistance or recovery? And why is it so important?

Researchers from the University of Exeter discuss these questions in a new article published on the 6th July in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

The study of resilience in ecological and evolutionary research has been gaining in popularity recently. Frustratingly this has led to a profusion of various metrics and indices all called “resilience”. The article argues that resilience cannot be captured in a single metric.

Dr. Dave Hodgson, Associate Professor from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University’s Penryn Campus said: “We felt frustrated by the variety of uses of the term resilience in the literature. When we sat down to think about it, we realised that a single concept was being used to describe two properties of a system: resistance and recovery”.

Resilience has classically been defined as a system’s ability to resist change in the face of disturbance. On the other hand, resilience has also been taken to be the process of recovery following disturbance, not the ability to resist it in the first place.  Dr. Hodgson explains: “For example, if someone punches me on the nose, I could resist by not falling over or recover afterwards by getting back up again. The net result is the same, I am resilient to punches but two different processes can yield that resilience”.

The article aims to reconcile these two properties and recommends the adoption of bivariate measurements in the study of resilience. The authors believe this will not only help people to understand which natural systems are more resilient than others but will also force us to consider whether resilience is achieved via resistance or recovery.

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and is published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

What do you mean, resilient? By Dave Hodgson, Jenni McDonald and David J Hosken.

Date: 16 July 2015

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