Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Published in C. Ray et al. (eds.), Food, Energy, and Water Nexus (Springer, 2022), pp. 11–31.



Copyright © 2022 Springer Nature Switzerland AG. Used by permission.


Many alternative agricultural approaches have been developed as a response to the social and ecological costs of modern industrialized agriculture. These include diversified, organic, sustainably intensified, and ecologically intensified farming systems, each of which addresses different aspects of agriculture as a social-ecological system. However, clear theoretical models that account for human-nature coupling and the importance of scale are lacking. Global change, including climate change, land use change, and other human activities influencing social-ecological systems, is exacerbating uncertainty regarding agriculture system dynamics and increasing the need for comprehensive models that include a dynamical integration of socio-ecological-economic influences. Resilience theory and related ideas such as panarchy have begun to actively inform agricultural science and practice in ways that should help enable current agricultural practices to become more sustainable – and resilient. However, there are several key resilience concepts that have yet to be fully developed within the agricultural research community. In this chapter, we briefly present resilience and its relevance to agriculture, and then we focus on three interrelated resilience ideas that have received less attention in the agriculture literature: (1) the functional attributes which underpin resilience; (2) the possibility of alternative regimes in agricultural systems and the implications for both continued agricultural production and the ecological landscapes in which agricultural systems are embedded; and (3) the relevance of scale for understanding and managing complex agricultural systems. We finish by discussing a path forward for the continued development of theories that can adequately encompass the full complexity of agricultural systems.