Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Chambers JC, Allen CR and Cushman SA (2020) Editorial: Operationalizing the Concepts of Resilience and Resistance for Managing Ecosystems and Species at Risk. Front. Ecol. Evol. 8:168. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2020.00168


Ecological resilience is essential for maintaining ecosystem services in an era of rapid global change, but successful attempts to operationalize it for managing ecosystems at risk have been limited. Clear formulation and application of ecological resilience concepts can guide ecosystem management so that it enhances the capacity of ecosystems to resist and recover from disturbances and provides adaptive space for periods of ecological reorganization. As originally defined, ecological resilience measures the amount of perturbation required to change an ecosystem from one set of processes and structures to a different set of processes and structures, or the amount of disturbance that a system can withstand before it shifts into a new regime or alternative stable state (Holling, 1973). In applied ecology, ecological resilience is increasingly used to evaluate the capacity of ecosystems to absorb, persist, and adapt to inevitable and often unpredictable change, and to use that information to determine the most effective management strategies (e.g., Chambers et al., 2014; Curtin and Parker, 2014; Pope et al., 2014; Seidl et al., 2016).

As the scale and magnitude of ecological change increases, operationalizing ecological resilience for ecosystem management becomes ever more important. To date, much of the literature on ecological resilience has focused on theory, definitions, and broad conceptualizations (e.g., Gunderson, 2000; Folke et al., 2004, 2010; Walker et al., 2004; Folke, 2006; Gunderson et al., 2010). Much of the more applied research has focused on the importance of species diversity and species functional attributes in affecting responses to stress and disturbance (e.g., Pope et al., 2014; Angeler and Allen, 2016; Baho et al., 2017; Roberts et al., 2018).

Recent, interdisciplinary research demonstrates that information on the relationships between an ecosystem’s environmental characteristics (climate, topography, soils, and potential biota) and its response to stress and disturbance provides a viable mechanism for assessing ecosystem resilience and relative risks (Chambers et al., 2014; Hessburg et al., 2016; Cushman et al., 2017; Kaszta et al., 2019). Approaches have been developed that enable application of resilience concepts at the scales needed for effective management of ecosystems experiencing progressive and deleterious change. For example, in the sagebrush biome of the western U.S. the concepts of resilience to fire and resistance to non-native invasive annual grasses have recently been used in an interagency framework to enhance conservation and restoration and help prevent listing of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) under the Endangered Species Act (Chambers et al., 2017). In ecosystems around the globe, levels of ecological stress and disturbance are increasing while resources for natural resources management remain limited. Fully developing the capacity to operationalize the concept of ecological resilience can enable managers to prioritize the types and locations of management activities needed to optimize ecosystem conservation and restoration.