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Resilience, Adaptive Capacity, and the “Lock-in Trap” of the Western Australian Agricultural Region

Helen E Allison, Murdoch University
Richard J Hobbs


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Using the Western Australian (WA) agricultural region as an example of a large-scale social-ecological system (SES), this paper applies a framework based on resilience theory to examine the region's resilience and capacity for change and renewal. Despite numerous policies directed at controlling natural resource degradation in this SES, sustainable natural resource management (NRM) has not been achieved. Disparities between the scale and complexity of the problem, the design of management policies, and region's history have all contributed to policy resistance. Historically, when considered as an integrated system, changes may be described by two iterations of the adaptive cycle. These cycles are also synchronous with the third and fourth Kondratiev long-wave economic cycles. The WA agricultural region has experienced sequential periods of growth and accumulation followed by reorganization and renewal, and currently is in the backloop (reorganization to exploitation phases) of the adaptive cycle. A region's adaptive capacity is achieved by substituting direct reliance on regional factors with institutional intervention and sophisticated technology, often generated at the global scale. This substitution alters the thresholds of the commodity system and gives the perception of an adaptive system. In contrast, however, if resource depletion, environmental pollution, and population decline, also effects of the commodity system, are included within the model then the region may be considered to be in a “Lock-in” pathological trap. We propose that the dynamics of land-use change between 1900–2003 were driven by macroeconomics at the global scale, mediated by institutions at the national and state scale. Also, the SES, which is composed of relatively fast-moving variables, is largely decoupled from the slow-moving ecological variables.

Key words

adaptive cycle, economics, Kondratiev cycles, land-use change, natural resources, resilience theory, scale, social-ecological systems, Western Australian agricultural region

Copyright © 2004 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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