Cooperative Research Units
Education, Research And Technical Assistance For Managing Our Natural Resources
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Dynamics of resilience in complex adaptive systems


May 2012 - December 2014


Ecosystems are a type of complex system, and as such share general rules of behavior with other types of complex adaptive systems. Research across a wide variety of disciplines has uncovered rules of system dynamics that address features of self-organization and emergence. Work in the field of ecology has proposed that resilience may be an emergent phenomenon of complex adaptive systems, and in particular, social-ecological systems. Resilience is the amount of disturbance a system can absorb or buffer while staying organized around the same key structures, processes, and functions. As our understanding of non-linear dynamics and complex systems has grown in recent years, the concept of resilience has exploded, and a great deal of work has been done to understand how resilience emerges and what system components and interactions comprise resilience.

One of the key findings is summarized in the cross-scale resilience model, which proposes that the distribution of species and the functions they represent within and across the scales of an ecosystem plays a key role in system resilience. While most previous work has been explicitly focused on social-ecological systems, there is some tantalizing evidence to suggest that resilience and the cross-scale model may also be applicable to other types of complex adaptive systems, such as economies.

In a more applied exploration of these ideas, the role of species abundance, coupled with their distribution of function, is an element of the cross-scale model that remains unexplored.

This project has two objectives.
1. Explore the cross-scale model in greater detail at both ends of the research spectrum, building the theoretical foundations of the cross-scale model and thus its applicability to other complex adaptive systems, in order to expand understanding of the cross-scale model to incorporate species’ abundances and potentially use it as a tool for resource managers to use for identifying impending regime shifts.
2. Focus on improving our understanding of the relationship between cross-scale distributions, species abundance, and regime shifts at a system level by using a comparison of a highly disturbed river basin system (the Lower Columbia River Basin, USA) against a less disturbed basin (the Fraser River Basin, Canada).


Current Staff

Federal Staff: 101

Masters Students: 234

Phd Students: 160

Post Docs: 60

University Staff: 268

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 671

Scientific Publications: 1868

Presentations: 4326



Funding Agencies

  • USGS Powell Center


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey