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Not All Roads Lead to Resilience: a Complex Systems Approach to the Comparative Analysis of Tortoises in Arid Ecosystems

Thomas E. J. Leuteritz, Redlands Institute
Hamid R. Ekbia, Redlands Institute


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The concept of resilience has been widely used in the study of social-ecological systems, with its key components identified as resistance, latitude, and precariousness. We use this concept to examine the differences among three semi-arid regions in terms of these three components. We do this by examining the status of tortoises that occur in the dry spiny forest Madagascar, the Karoo of South Africa, and the Mojave Desert of the United States as an indicator of the health and resilience of their respective ecosystems. Our findings demonstrate the tight coupling between societal development and ecosystem dynamics, the role of diversity in enhancing resilience, and the significance of local communal knowledge in sustaining it. Our findings also suggest that at each of the three sites, social parameters are the dominant drivers of change in the overall social-ecological system. We borrow the notions of control parameter and collective variable from dynamical systems theory to hypothesize that in present-day societies, social parameters might in fact be the control parameters of the greater social-ecological system, and that resilience is the collective variable that captures and demonstrates the overall behavior of the system.

Key words

collective variable; control parameter; latitude; Madagascar; panarchy; precariousness; resistance; social-ecological systems; South Africa; United States

Copyright © 2008 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