Agronomy and Horticulture Department



Ecological Resilience

Date of this Version


Document Type



Plant and Soil Sciences eLibrary (PASSeL) Lesson


Copyright © 2019 Allison K. Ludwig, Conor D. Barnes, Dillon Fogarty, Julie A. Fowler, Katharine F. E. Hogan, Jessica E. Johnson, and Dirac Twidwell. Used by permission.

This project was supported in part by the National Research Initiative Competitive Grants CAP project 2011-68002-30029 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, administered by the University of California-Davis and by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Division of Undergraduate Education, National SMETE Digital Library Program, Award #0938034, administered by the University of Nebraska. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USDA or NSF.


This lesson is an introduction to the concept of ecological resilience. Resilience is the amount of disturbance a system can withstand without transitioning to an alternative state characterized by fundamentally different structure and function. Disturbances include fire, flooding, grazing, and all kinds of modern human influences like pollution and overharvesting of resources. Concepts of ecological resilience apply to complex systems such as the human body, ecosystems, societies, and economies. Overall, the concepts of ecological resilience can help us to better understand, conserve, and remediate Earth’s ecosystems in the face of historically unprecedented anthropogenic change while also understanding the dynamic processes at work within social systems of our own creation.

Overview - What Will You Learn In This Lesson?

This lesson discusses what resilience is and how it relates to understanding and interpreting natural phenomena.


This lesson covers the concept of ecological resilience. At the end of this module you should be able to:

  1. Define ecological resilience and some related terminology
  2. Give a brief history of the origin of the concept
  3. Explain the ball-in-cup model of resilience and understand the dynamics of the model
  4. Provide reasons why this concept may be used to make ecological management decisions