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Exploring Panarchy in Alpine Grasslands: an Application of Adaptive Cycle Concepts to the Conservation of a Cultural Landscape

Ian D. Soane, Action with Communities in Cumbria; IASMA Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach
Rocco Scolozzi, IASMA Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach
Alessandro Gretter, IASMA Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach
Klaus Hubacek , Department of Geography, University of Maryland; Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge


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This paper explores approaches of applying the panarchy perspective to a case study of natural resource management in the cultural landscape of upland alpine pastures in northern Italy. The close interaction within the cultural landscape between alpine pasture ecology and the management regimes offers a strong fit with the concept of social-ecological systems and provides insights to appropriate and adaptive management of sites of conservation interest. We examine the limited literature available that offers a resilience understanding of such landscapes and address apparent gaps in the application through our interpretation and use of adaptive cycles and panarchy. We draft conceptual models of adaptive cycles considering ecological and socioeconomic information as acting in separate but interacting domains. Notwithstanding the difficulties in defining and measuring quantitative state variables, we found that a panarchy model can offer a powerful metaphor with practical implications for the maintenance of such alpine cultural landscapes. In effect, our panarchy interpretation of interacting adaptive cycles provides new insights into the description of and the future options for land use in our case study area.
Some issues are only partly developed. We hypothesized measurable parameters that could be related to system resilience, such as alternative states, shifting thresholds, and regime stability, which are all dependent on adaptive processes; but we found quantification difficult even at a conceptual level. Nevertheless, we found it helpful to use nature conservation evaluation as a useful surrogate for measures of capital in adaptive cycles of vegetation. However, care is needed to distinguish between the descriptive metaphor using selective surrogate measures and real ecological behavior. Additionally we recognize the need to integrate this ecological understanding with cycles in socioeconomic domains and consider that interactions between the loss of both social and ecological capital would be interesting issues to explore further in our case study.

We suggest that resilience theory, through its focus on adaptive cycles interacting at different speeds and across varying geographic scales, offers useful insights into resource management and in particular for nature conservation interest sites, by focusing more on dynamics than on an optimal state of species assemblages. This may help to define sites and to achieve the objectives of Natura 2000 through the European Habitats Directive, offering a basis to guide a conservation of processes, in which cultural tradition and local ecological knowledge are valued.

Key words

adaptive cycles; alpine pastures; cultural landscapes; Natura 2000; natural resource management; panarchy

Copyright © 2012 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