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Resilience, Regime Shifts, and Guided Transition under Climate Change: Examining the Practical Difficulties of Managing Continually Changing Systems

Brenda B Lin, CSIRO, Climate Adaptation Flagship
Brian Petersen, Michigan State University W.K. Kellogg Biological Station


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Managing terrestrial systems has become increasingly difficult under climate change as unidirectional shifts in climate conditions challenge the resilience of ecosystems to maintain their compositional structure and function. Despite the increased attention of resilience management to guide transformational change, questions remain as to how to apply resilience to manage transitions. Rather than pushing systems across thresholds into alternative states, climate change may create a stepwise progression of unknown transitional states that track changing climate conditions. Because of this uncertainty, we must find ways to guide transitioning systems across climate boundaries towards states that are socially and environmentally desirable. We propose to ease the uncertainty of managing shifting systems by providing an approach to adaptive management that we call guided transition, where socially and environmentally important ecosystem functions are preserved through transitions by considering and maintaining the species and structures needed for the desired functions. Scientifically, it will require a better understanding of the relationships between structure, species composition, and function for specific systems. Managers will also need to identify important functions at the local, regional, and national scale, and to determine how best to transition systems to a desired state based on existing scientific knowledge. Guided transition, therefore, helps guide the process of adaptive management by specifying a function-based management pathway that guides transitions through climatic changes.

Key words

ecosystem function; ecosystem structure; resilience management; species composition; unidirectional shifts

Copyright © 2013 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