, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 578–589 | Cite as

Panarchy: Theory and Application

  • Craig R. AllenEmail author
  • David G. Angeler
  • Ahjond S. Garmestani
  • Lance H. Gunderson
  • C. S. Holling


The concept of panarchy provides a framework that characterizes complex systems of people and nature as dynamically organized and structured within and across scales of space and time. It has been more than a decade since the introduction of panarchy. Over this period, its invocation in peer-reviewed literature has been steadily increasing, but its use remains primarily descriptive and abstract. Here, we discuss the use of the concept in the literature to date, highlight where the concept may be useful, and discuss limitations to the broader applicability of panarchy theory for research in the ecological and social sciences. Finally, we forward a set of testable hypotheses to evaluate key propositions that follow from panarchy theory.


complex systems discontinuities novelty regime resilience social–ecological systems transformations 



An earlier version of this manuscript was improved by comments from K. Nash, T. Spanbauer, and two anonymous reviewers. We also thank Bev Gunderson for graphics support. The Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit is jointly supported by a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Geological Survey, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Management Institute. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the United States Government or U.S. EPA. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the August T. Larsson Foundation of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and the U.S. Geological Survey John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Craig R. Allen
    • 1
    Email author
  • David G. Angeler
    • 2
  • Ahjond S. Garmestani
    • 3
  • Lance H. Gunderson
    • 4
  • C. S. Holling
    • 5
  1. 1.U.S. Geological Survey, Nebraska Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research UnitUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  2. 2.Department of Aquatic Sciences and AssessmentSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden
  3. 3.National Risk Management Research LaboratoryU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyCincinnatiUSA
  4. 4.Department of Environmental StudiesEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  5. 5.Resilience CenterNanaimoCanada

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