Table 1. Indicators for assessing agroecosystem resilience.

Indicator (sources) Definition Implications What to look for
Socially self-organized
(Levin 1999, Holling 2001, Milestad and Darnhofer 2003, Atwell et al. 2010, McKey et al. 2010)
The social components of the agroecosystem are able to form their own configuration based on their needs and desires Systems that exhibit greater level of self-organization need fewer feedbacks introduced by managers and have greater intrinsic adaptive capacity Farmers and consumers are able to organize into grassroots networks and institutions such as co-ops, farmer’s markets, community sustainability associations, community gardens, and advisory networks
Ecologically self-regulated
(Sundkvist et al. 2005, Ewell 1999, Jackson 2002, Swift et al. 2004, Jacke and Toensmeier 2005, Glover et al. 2010, McKey et al. 2010)
Ecological components self-regulate via stabilizing feedback mechanisms that send information back to the controlling elements A greater degree of ecological self-regulation can reduce the amount of external inputs required to maintain a system, such as nutrients, water, and energy Farms maintain plant cover and incorporate more perennials, provide habitat for predators and parasitoids, use ecosystem engineers, and align production with local ecological parameters
Appropriately connected
(Axelrod and Cohen 1999, Holling 2001, Gunderson and Holling 2002, Picasso et al. 2011)
Connectedness describes the quantity and quality of relationships between system elements High and weak connectedness imparts diversity and flexibility to the system; low and strong impart dependency and rigidity Collaborating with multiple suppliers, outlets, and fellow farmers; crops planted in polycultures that encourage symbiosis and mutualism
Functional and response diversity
(Altieri 1999, Ewell 1999, Berkes et al. 2003, Luck et al. 2003, Swift et al. 2004, Folke 2006, Jackson et al. 2007, Di Falco and Chavas 2008, Moonen and Barbieri 2008, Chapin et al. 2009, Darnhofer et al. 2010b, McIntyre 2009)
Functional diversity is the variety of ecosystem services that components provide to the system; response diversity is the range of responses of these components to environmental change Diversity buffers against perturbations (insurance) and provides seeds of renewal following disturbance Heterogeneity of features within the landscape and on the farm; diversity of inputs, outputs, income sources, markets, pest controls, etc.
Optimally redundant
(Low et al. 2003, Sundkvist et al. 2005, Darnhofer et al. 2010b, Walker et al. 2010)
Critical components and relationships within the system are duplicated in case of failure Also called response diversity; redundancy may decrease a system’s efficiency, but it gives the system multiple back-ups, increases buffering capacity, and provides seeds of renewal following disturbance Planting multiple varieties of crops rather than one, keeping equipment for various crops, getting nutrients from multiple sources, capturing water from multiple sources
Spatial and temporal heterogeneity
(Alcorn and Toledo 1998, Devictor and Jiguet 2007, Di Falco and Chavas 2008)
Patchiness across the landscape and changes through time Like diversity, spatial heterogeneity provides seeds of renewal following disturbance; through time, it allows patches to recover and restore nutrients Patchiness on the farm and across the landscape, mosaic pattern of managed and unmanaged land, diverse cultivation practices, crop rotations
Exposed to disturbance
(Gunderson and Holling 2002, Berkes et al. 2003, Folke 2006)
The system is exposed to discrete, low-level events that cause disruptions without pushing the system beyond a critical threshold Such frequent, small-scale disturbances can increase system resilience and adaptability in the long term by promoting natural selection and novel configurations during the phase of renewal; described as “creative destruction” Pest management that allows a certain controlled amount of invasion followed by selection of plants that fared well and exhibit signs of resistance
Coupled with local natural capital
(Ewell 1999, Milestad and Darnhofer 2003, Robertson and Swinton 2005, Naylor 2009, Darnhofer et al. 2010a,b, van Apeldoorn et al. 2011)
The system functions as much as possible within the means of the bioregionally available natural resource base and ecosystem services Responsible use of local resources encourages a system to live within its means; this creates an agroecosystem that recycles waste, relies on healthy soil, and conserves water Builds (does not deplete) soil organic matter, recharges water, little need to import nutrients or export waste
Reflective and shared learning
(Berkes et al. 2003, Darnhofer et al. 2010b, Milestad et al. 2010, Shava et al. 2010)
Individuals and institutions learn from past experiences and present experimentation to anticipate change and create desirable futures The more people and institutions can learn from the past and from each other, and share that knowledge, the more capable the system is of adaptation and transformation, in other words, more resilient Extension and advisory services for farmers; collaboration between universities, research centers, and farmers; cooperation and knowledge sharing between farmers; record keeping; baseline knowledge about the state of the agroecosystem
Globally autonomous and locally interdependent
(Milestad and Darnhofer 2003, Walker et al. 2010, van Apeldoorn et al. 2011)
The system has relative autonomy from exogenous (global) control and influences and exhibits a high level of cooperation between individuals and institutions at the more local level A system cannot be entirely autonomous but it can strive to be less vulnerable to forces that are outside its control; local interdependence can facilitate this by encouraging collaboration and cooperation rather than competition. Less reliance on commodity markets and reduced external inputs; more sales to local markets, reliance on local resources; existence of farmer co-ops, close relationships between producer and consumer, and shared resources such as equipment
Honors legacy
(Gunderson and Holling 2002, Cumming et al. 2005, Shava et al. 2010, van Apeldoorn et al. 2011)
The current configuration and future trajectories of systems are influenced and informed by past conditions and experiences Also known as path dependency, this relates to the biological and cultural memory embodied in a system and its components Maintenance of heirloom seeds and engagement of elders, incorporation of traditional cultivation techniques with modern knowledge
Builds human capital
(Buchmann 2009, Shava et al. 2010, McManus et al. 2012)
The system takes advantage of and builds “resources that can be mobilized through social relationships and membership in social networks” (Nahapiet and Ghoshal 1998:243) Human capital includes: constructed (economic activity, technology, infrastructure), cultural (individual skills and abilities), social (social organizations, norms, formal and informal networks) Investment in infrastructure and institutions for the education of children and adults, support for social events in farming communities, programs for preservation of local knowledge
Reasonably profitable The segments of society involved in agriculture are able to make a livelihood from the work they do without relying too heavily on subsidies or secondary employment Being reasonably profitable allows participants in the system to invest in the future; this adds buffering capacity, flexibility, and builds wealth that can be tapped into following release Farmers and farm workers earn a livable wage; agriculture sector does not rely on distortionary subsidies