Agronomy and Horticulture Department




Date of this Version


Document Type



Plant and Soil Sciences eLibrary (PASSeL) Lesson


Copyright © 2020 Conor D. Barnes, Dillon Fogarty, Julie A. Fowler, Katharine F. E. Hogan, Jessica E. Johnson, Alison K. Ludwig, and Dirac Twidwell. Used by permission.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. DGE-1735362 and 1920938. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


This module discusses panarchy theory, a framework for understanding how systems function and interact across scales. The key idea in panarchy theory is that adaptive cycles are nested together and interact with each other to form what are termed “panarchies.” Within a panarchy, broad scale adaptive cycles influence smaller scale cycles, and smaller scale cycles can influence broad scale ones. This is true of both social and ecological systems. Panarchy theory has been applied to examine regime shifts in ecology as well as company size distribution in economics.

Overview - What Will You Learn in This Lesson?

This lesson introduces panarchy theory and how it relates to understanding and interpreting natural and social systems.


This lesson covers the concept of panarchy. At the completion of this lesson, you should be able to:

  1. Define a panarchy and related principles
  2. Analyze how panarchy theory can be used to manage social or ecological systems
  3. Apply panarchy theory to social and ecological systems
  4. Explain two panarchy transition pathways
  5. Understand how panarchy is useful in order to assess a system’s ecological resilience