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Mechanisms of Resilience in Common-pool Resource Management Systems: an Agent-based Model of Water Use in a River Basin

Maja Schlüter, Princeton University; UFZ- Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research
Claudia Pahl-Wostl, University of Osnabrück


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The concept of resilience is widely promoted as a promising notion to guide new approaches to ecosystem and resource management that try to enhance a system's capacity to cope with change. A variety of mechanisms of resilience specific for different systems have been proposed. In the context of resource management those include but are not limited to the diversity of response options and flexibility of the social system to adaptively respond to changes on an adequate scale. However, implementation of resilience-based management in specific real-world systems has often proven difficult because of a limited understanding of suitable interventions and their impact on the resilience of the coupled social-ecological system.
We propose an agent-based modeling approach to explore system characteristics and mechanisms of resilience in a complex resource management system, based on a case study of water use in the Amudarya River, which is a semiarid river basin. Water resources in its delta are used to sustain irrigated agriculture as well as aquatic ecosystems that provide fish and other ecosystem services. The three subsystems of the social-ecological system, i.e., the social system, the irrigation system, and an aquatic ecosystem, are linked by resource flows and the allocation decision making of actors on different levels. Simulation experiments are carried out to compare the resilience of different institutional settings of water management to changes in the variability and uncertainty of water availability. The aim is to investigate the influence of (1) the organizational structure of water management, (2) information on water availability, and (3) the diversity of water uses on the resilience of the system to short and long-term water scarcity. In this paper, the model concept and first simulation results are presented. As a first illustration of the approach the performances of a centralized and a decentralized regime are compared under different scenarios of information on water availability. Under the given conditions of a regularly fluctuating inflow and compliance of agents with orders from a national authority, the centralized system performs better as long as irrigation is the only type of water use. Diversification of resource use, e.g., irrigation and fishing, increases the performance of the decentralized regime and the resilience of both. Systematic analysis of the performance of different system structures will help to identify properties and mechanisms of resilience. This understanding will be valuable for the identification, development, and evaluation of management interventions in specific river basins.

Key words

adaptive management; agent-based model; Amudarya; diversification; fisheries; irrigation; mechanism; resilience; river basin; social-ecological system; water use.

Copyright © 2007 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087