Ecological resilience refers to the ability of an ecosystem to maintain key functions and processes in the face of stresses or pressures, either by resisting or adapting to change. ref

Resilient systems are characterized as adaptable, flexible, and able to deal with change and uncertainty. ref In the context of this module, 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

(ALL RIGHTS, ALL USES) Coastal mangrove forest in the area of the Sandy Island Oyster Bay Marine Protected Area (SIOBMPA) at Carriacou, Grenada.  Sandy Island Oyster Bay Marine Protected Area, designed with the support of the Conservancy, was officially launched by Grenada in July 2010. The new reserve is one of three new marine protected areas the country will launch to help improve the management of the country’s marine resources. Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are located at the Southern end of the Lesser Antilles. Photo © Marjo Aho

The concept of resilience can apply to any ecosystem including mangrove forests. Coastal mangrove forest in the area of the Sandy Island Oyster Bay Marine Protected Area (SIOBMPA) at Carriacou, Grenada. Sandy Island Oyster Bay Marine Protected Area, designed with the support of the Conservancy, was officially launched by Grenada in July 2010. The new reserve is one of three new marine protected areas the country will launch to help improve the management of the country’s marine resources. Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are located at the Southern end of the Lesser Antilles. Photo © Marjo Aho

Building resilience into an ecosystem means working to support the health and function of associated habitats, organisms, and ecosystem processes. The ecological processes that maintain reef function and support thriving reef communities play an important role in maintaining resilience to major disturbances. Complex food-web interactions (e.g., herbivory, trophic cascades), reproductive cycles, population connectivity, and recruitment are key ecological processes that support the resilience of ecosystems like coral reefs.

A number of indicators have been identified to help managers understand what ecological resilience looks like in a coral reef ecosystem.

Ecological systems that are resilient often use a diverse set of strategies and methods for coping with and adapting to change. For ecological systems, biodiversity and functional redundancy can help the ecosystem be more resilient to environmental changes. For example, reef communities with functional redundancy may have a better chance of recovery if a species is lost from a functional group. Therefore, monitoring and managing functional groups, such as herbivorous fishes, can play a critical role in facilitating reef recovery following a large scale disturbance. In social systems, management of resources and governance systems can enhance resilience by diversifying patterns of resource use and encouraging alternative livelihoods. ref See Management Strategies, Managing for Social Resilience for more information on managing coral reef ecosystems to support resilience.

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Last updated August 1, 2016

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