Nebraska Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit


Date of this Version



Allen, C. R. and C. Holling 2010. Novelty, adaptive capacity, and resilience. Ecology and Society 15(3): 24.


US government work.


We present a conceptual framework that explores some of the forces creating innovation and novelty in complex systems. Understanding the sources of variability and novelty may help us better understand complex systems. Understanding complex phenomena such as invasions, migration, and nomadism may provide insight into the structure of ecosystems and other complex systems, and aid our attempts to cope with and mitigate these phenomena, in the case of invasions, and better understand and or predict them. Our model is broadly applicable to ecological theory, including community ecology, resilience, restoration, and policy. Characterizing the link between landscape change and the composition of species communities may help policymakers in their decision-making processes. Understanding how variability is related to system structure, and how that generates novelty, may help us understand how resilience is generated. We suggest that there are three primary opportunities for the generation of novelty into complex systems. These sources of novelty are inherent in the cross-scale structure of complex systems, and are critical for creating adaptive capacity. Novelty originates from the inherent variability present in cross scale structures, within scale reorganization associated with adaptive cycles, and whole-scale transformations resulting from regime shifts. Although speculative, our ideas are grounded in research and observation, and they may provide insight into the evolution of complex systems.