Eight qualities of resilient systems fit the adaptive cycle of all living systems

For several years we have been trying to figure out how local food systems survive, in other words, are resilient.  How are they able to cope with disturbance and still keep on ticking?  Our working hypothesis is that eight qualities are necessary for such a system to be resilient, to last. Our hope is that some revision of the eight qualities hypothesis will explain and predict resilience at a variety of scales from soils to cities to nations.  However, we do recognize tight relationships between all the variables.

Specifically, we note that four pairs of qualities seem to mutually reinforce each other.

adaptive cycle 3 DConservative Innovation (CI) and Periodic Transformation (PT).  Innovation within a system is transformative on a smaller scale and is a quality all researchers recognize as necessary to resilience.  Some frameworks don’t make the leap to recognizing that sometimes the innovation required may be so extensive as to transform the entire system.  This limited embrace of transformation is illustrated by some conceptualizations of resilience, such as Rockefeller Foundation’s resilience index for cities which notes that resilient systems have mechanisms to continuously evolve, but does not go so far as to say they are periodically totally transformed.

Similarly, modular connectivity (MC) is required for local self-organization (LSO).  However, high modular connectivity can exist without local self-organization. LSO refers to the tendency of the system to create its own structures.  Whereas, MC is a quality of the interaction of components in the system.  Modularity does require local organization, but not necessarily self-organization.  The independence or modularity of a subsystem may be designed or organized at a higher scale.

Likewise, ecological integration (EI) and complementary diversity (CD) are also intimately related.  Both refer to the integration of diverse components in a resilient system.  However, the EI quality is manifested in meshing of farm activities with surrounding natural processes.  CD is manifested in a variety of components working together, feeding each other.

Finally, accumulating reserves and productive infrastructure (ARI) and maintenance and responsive redundancy (MRR) also are closely related.  As the farm maintains and builds infrastructure and reserves, it is also building redundancy.  However, ARI is the tendency of the system to accumulate productive features such as irrigation ponds, processing equipment, grain storage, etc.  MRR is the ability of the system to replace itself.  A system may have a high level of ARI, but be very low in MRR.  Some farmers are extremely resilient in every respect but one.  They have no process established for their farm to be maintained into the next generation.

These four related pairs of qualities fit the four phases of the adaptive cycle (Holling et al., 2002) which all ecological systems pass through.  The four phases are: a period of rapid growth, followed by a phase of maturation and stability, succeeded by a release of nutrients and biomass following a disturbance, and finally reorganization and renewal of the system, leading back to the phase of rapid growth.  This cycle has been observed in managed and unmanaged systems from soils (Dorren and Imeson, 2005), to businesses (Fath et al., 2015) to cities (Pelling and Manuel-Navarrete, 2011).  An annual cropping system follows the four phases with planting, rapid growth, maturation and harvest.

In resilient agroecosystems, LSO and MC are most apparent in the reorganization/renewal phase.  CI and PT are strikingly important in the release phase as the system responds to disturbance, though CI is also strongly expressed in the alpha phase.  EI and CD are most highly expressed in the fast growth stage of the system.  The maturation/stability phase highlights MRR and ARI.


Don’t you just love acronyms and buzzwords and jargon?  Of course you don’t, unless you really know a particular research area and see the value of terms which describe something real which has never been described before.  Then we need new terms, new jargon, to express these new observations.

If you want to learn more about these phenomena, you can read all about them in our online book which you can download for free at: https://meadowcreekvalley.wordpress.com/projects/land/roots-of-resilience-the-book/

Or you can just ignore all this jargon and lapse back into a lazy stupor.


One thought on “Eight qualities of resilient systems fit the adaptive cycle of all living systems

  1. Pingback: Fire is release to permit rebirth; it’s a response to accumulation | Resilience

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