Key Concept - Resilience

The ability to tolerate disturbance while maintaining the capacity to adapt

Creating resilience will be essential for human and natural systems to thrive over time.  Resilience is the system property that makes the provision of ecosystem services possible.

Building resilience is important because the system is more able to: 

  • recover from stress, shocks and change
  • while maintaining the capacity to recover in the future
  • and without shifting to a different (often less desirable) state.

But managing for resilience also comes at a cost. In order to maintain reserves of energy and protect opportunities for the future, current uses of natural and human resources must be limited rather than maximized. A system that 'uses up' all of its resources does not have the capacity to respond to future threats or even maintain current services.  A system that conserves resources for the future will have some reserve capacity to face changing conditions.

‘Resilience is fundamentally a system property. It refers to the magnitude of change or disturbance that a system can experience without shifting into an alternate state that has different structural and functional properties and supplies different bundles of the ecosystem services that benefit people.’ (page 5, Resilience Alliance Workbook)

Climate change is an example of a stress or shock with many unknown impacts to ecological systems.  The concept of resilience will be included in adaptive management strategies that address climate related challenges. Extensive scientific information and climate change resources for Minnesota are available here.

Understanding resilience and its connection to watershed health is an expanding area of scientific exploration. The Resilience Alliance is an excellent source of new learning by the scientific community and access to related scientific literature.