What is Resilience?

Resilience is defined as the ability of a system to maintain key functions and processes in the face of stresses or pressures by either resisting to or adapting to change. ref  It can be applied to all marine ecosystems, including temperate, tropical, and polar regions, and can also be applied to social systems (e.g., human communities). The term “resilience” has been defined for both ecological systems and social systems. In other modules we also dive deeper into the meaning and provide examples of resilience for both coral reefs and coral reef fisheries.

Resilience includes three components: 1) resistance; 2) recovery; and 3) transformation. Resistance refers to the ability to absorb or resist impacts and recovery refers to the ability to recover from them. Transformation refers to changes that affect the function of the socio-ecological system. The concept of transformation is at the forefront of debates about responses to climate change. It has been recognized as a key component of resilience in response to the need for humans to develop solutions to pressing environmental and social challenges, and it acknowledges the active role that humans play in shaping their future. Transformation is a complex process that involves changes at the personal, cultural, organizational, institutional and system levels. ref

The concept of resilience has evolved from an ecological definition, emphasizing the persistence of the ecosystem structure and function in a changing world, to an emphasis on the ability of coupled social-ecological systems to adapt. Most recently, the concept of resilience includes the ability of society to transform in the face of global change.

Resilience, therefore, refers to a system’s capacity to persist in its current state of functioning while facing disturbance and change, to adapt to future challenges, and to transform in ways that enhance its functioning. ref

Coral reef resilience refers to a reef ecosystem’s ability to recover from a disturbance and recover towards a coral-rich state, and/or to maintain morphological diversity as opposed to shifting to an algal-dominated state or a single coral morphology. ref

Last updated April 4, 2016

Ecological Resilience

The term, “ecological resilience” was originally developed to describe ecosystems that can shift towards alternative states, such as from coral to algal dominated states. Ecological resilience of a natural system is ultimately about the health of the system and how that system functions as a unit, rather than the population size or balance of individual populations. Learn more.

Social Resilience

Social resilience refers to the ability of a community to cope with external stresses due to social, political, environmental and economic change. It shares much with the concept of ecological resilience, but with an important difference: humans have the ability to anticipate and prepare for future conditions. Learn more.

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