, Volume 8, Issue 8, pp 975–987 | Cite as

An Exploratory Framework for the Empirical Measurement of Resilience

  • G. S. CummingEmail author
  • G. Barnes
  • S. Perz
  • M. Schmink
  • K. E. Sieving
  • J. Southworth
  • M. Binford
  • R. D. Holt
  • C. Stickler
  • T. Van  Holt


Deliberate progress towards the goal of long-term sustainability depends on understanding the dynamics of linked social and ecological systems. The concept of social-ecological resilience holds promise for interdisciplinary syntheses. Resilience is a multifaceted concept that as yet has not been directly operationalized, particularly in systems for which our ignorance is such that detailed, parameter-rich simulation models are difficult to develop. We present an exploratory framework as a step towards the operationalization of resilience for empirical studies. We equate resilience with the ability of a system to maintain its identity, where system identity is defined as a property of key components and relationships (networks) and their continuity through space and time. Innovation and memory are also fundamental to understanding identity and resilience. By parsing our systems into the elements that we subjectively consider essential to identity, we obtain a small set of specific focal variables that reflect changes in identity. By assessing the potential for changes in identity under specified drivers and perturbations, in combination with a scenario-based approach to considering alternative futures, we obtain a surrogate measure of the current resilience of our study system as the likelihood of a change in system identity under clearly specified conditions, assumptions, drivers and perturbations. Although the details of individual case studies differ, the concept of identity provides a level of generality that can be used to compare measure of resilience across cases. Our approach will also yield insights into the mechanisms of change and the potential consequences of different policy and management decisions, providing a level of decision support for each case study area.


resilience infrastructure connectivity networks identity social-ecological system interdisciplinary scenario 



We are grateful to the other members of the UF roadies group for their contributions over the past 2 years to the many discussions that have led to the development of this framework. Thanks are also due to Tom Clarke (UCF), Foster Brown, and our partners in Brazil/MAP and Chile. GC is grateful to John Collier of the University of Natal for his collaboration in helping to refine ideas about identity in complex systems. Thoughtful comments were provided on an earlier draft of this manuscript by Frances Westley, Steve Carpenter, and two anonymous referees.


  1. Bennett EM, Carpenter SR, Peterson GD, Cumming GS, Zurek M, Pingali P. 2003. Why global scenarios need ecology. Front Ecol Environ 1:322–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bernard HR. 2002. Research methods in anthropology: qualitative and quantitative methods. Walnut Creek: AltaMira PressGoogle Scholar
  3. Blaikie P. 1985. The political economy of soil erosion in developing countries. Essex: LongmanGoogle Scholar
  4. Blaikie P, Brookfield H. 1987. Degradation and society. London: MethuenGoogle Scholar
  5. Bradshaw GA, Borchers JG. 2000. Uncertainty as information: narrowing the science-policy gap. Conserva Ecol 4:7Google Scholar
  6. Carpenter SR, 2002. Ecological futures: building an ecology of the long now. Ecology 83:2069–83Google Scholar
  7. Carpenter S, Brock W, Hanson P. 1999. Ecological and social dynamics in simple models of ecosystem management. Conserv Ecol 3(2):4. [online] URL:
  8. Carpenter SR, Walker B, Anderies MJ, Abel N. 2001. From metaphor to measurement: resilience of what to what? Ecosystems 4:765–81Google Scholar
  9. Caudro Dias de Paiva EM, Clarke RT. 1995. Time trends in rainfall records in Amazonia. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 76(11):2203–9Google Scholar
  10. Clark JS, Carpenter SR, Barber M, Collins S, Dobson A, Foley JA, Lodge DM, Pascual M, Pielke R, Pizer W, Pringle C, Reid WV, Rose KA, Sala O, Schlesinger WH, Wall DH, Wear D. 2001. Ecological forecasts: an emerging imperative. Science 293:657–60CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Chambers R. 1992. Rural appraisal: rapid, relaxed and participatory. Brighton: Institute of Development StudiesGoogle Scholar
  12. Cumming, GS, Collier J. 2005. Change and identity in complex systems. Ecology and Society 10:29Google Scholar
  13. CEPEI 2001. La Intergracion Regional entre Bolivia, Brasil y Peru. Lima: CPEIGoogle Scholar
  14. Daily GC, Alexander S, Ehrlich PR, Goulder L, Lubchenco J, Matson PA, Mooney HA, Postel S, Schneider S, Tilman D, Woodwell GM 1997. Ecosystem services: benefits supplied to human societies by natural ecosystems. Issues Ecol 2:1–16Google Scholar
  15. Davis S. 1977. Victims of the miracle: development and the Indians of Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  16. Forman RTT, Alexander LE. 1998. Roads and their major ecological effects. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 29:307–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Friedmann J, Stuckey B. 1973. The territorial basis of national transportation planning. In: DeSalvo JS, ed. Perspectives on regional transportation planning, Lexington (MA): D.C. Heath Company. p 141–75Google Scholar
  18. Goodland RJA, Irwin HS. 1975. Amazon jungle: green hell to red desert? an ecological discussion of the environmental impact of the highway construction program in the amazon basin. New York: Elsevier Scientific PublishersGoogle Scholar
  19. Hall AL. 1989. Developing Amazonia: deforestation and social conflict in Brazil’s carajás program. Manchester: Manchester University PressGoogle Scholar
  20. Harris J, De Renzio P. 1997. The concept of social capital. J Int Dev 9:919–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Holling CS. 1986. The resilience of terrestrial ecosystems; local surprise and global change. In: Clark WC, Munn RE, eds. Sustainable development of the biosphere, vol 10. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press. p 292–317Google Scholar
  22. Holling CS. 1987. Simplifying the complex: the paradigms of ecological function and structure. Eur J Oper Res 30:139–146. Republished 1995 in Futures 26:598–609CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Holling CS. 2001. Understanding the complexity of economic, social and ecological systems. Ecosystems 4:390–405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holling CS, Gunderson LH. 2002. Resilience and adaptive cycles. In: Gunderson LH, Holling CS, Eds. Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Washington (DC): Island PressGoogle Scholar
  25. Holling CS, Meffe G. 1996. Command and control and the pathology of natural resource management. Conserv Biol 10:328–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kainer KA, Schmink M, Leite ACP, Fadell MJD. 2003 Experiments in forest-based development in Western Amazonia. Society and Natural Resources 16:869–886Google Scholar
  27. Laurance WF, Laurance SG, Ferreira LV, Rankin-de Merona JM, Gascon C, Lovejoy TE. 1997. Biomass collapse in Amazonian forest fragments. Science 278:1117–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Marengo JA, Hastenrath S. 1993. Case studies of extreme climatic events in the Amazon Basin. J Clim 6:617–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ostrom E. 1990. Governing the commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action. New York: Cambridge U PressGoogle Scholar
  30. Owen W. 1987. Transportation and world development. Baltimore (MA): The Johns Hopkins University PressGoogle Scholar
  31. Peterson G. 2000. Political ecology and ecological resilience: an integration of human and ecological dynamics. Ecol Econ 35:323–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Peterson GD, Cumming GS, Carpenter SR. (2003). Scenario planning: a tool for conservation in an uncertain future. Conserv Biol 17:358–66Google Scholar
  33. Pickett STA, Kolasa J, and Jones CG. 1994. Ecological understanding: the nature of theory and the theory of nature. Academic Press, NY, USAGoogle Scholar
  34. Regan HM, Colyvan M, Burgman MA. 2002. A taxonomy of treatment of uncertainty for ecology and conservation biology. Ecol Appl 12:618–28Google Scholar
  35. Regan HM, Akcakaya HR, Ferson S, Root KV, Carroll S, Ginzburg LR. 2003. Treatments of uncertainty and variability in ecological risk assessment of single-species populations. Hum Ecol Risk Assess 9:889–906Google Scholar
  36. Rose KA, Cowan JH. 2003. Data, models, and decisions in US Marine Fisheries management: lessons for ecologists. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 34:127–51Google Scholar
  37. Schmink M, Wood CH. 1987. The “political ecology” of Amazonia. In: Little PD, Horowitz MM, Nyeres AE, Eds. Lands at risk in the third world: local level perspectives. Boulder: WestviewGoogle Scholar
  38. Schmink M, Wood CH. 1992. Contested frontiers in amazonia. New York: Columbia University PressGoogle Scholar
  39. Treece D,. 1987. Bound in misery and iron: the impact of the grande carajas program on the indians of brazil. London: Survival InternationalGoogle Scholar
  40. Trombulak SC, Frissell CA. 2000. Review of ecological effects of roads on terrestrial and aquatic communities. Conserv Biol 14:18–30Google Scholar
  41. Vance JE. 1986. Capturing the horizon: the historical geography of transportation. New York (NY): Harper & Row PublishersGoogle Scholar
  42. Vulinec K. 2000. Dung beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae), monkeys, and conservation in Amazonia. Fla Entomol 83:229–41Google Scholar
  43. Wadt LHO, Kainer KA, Gomes-Silva DAP. (2005). Population structure and nut yield of a Bertholletia excitsa stand in Southwestern Amazonia. Forest Ecology and Management 211:371-384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wiggins D. (1967) Identity and spatio-temporal continuity. Oxford: Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  45. Walker B, Carpenter S, Anderies J, Abel N, Cumming G, Janssen M, Lebel L, Norberg J, Peterson GD, Pritchard R. 2002. Resilience management in social-ecological systems: a working hypothesis for a participatory approach. Conserv Ecol 6(1):14Google Scholar
  46. Wunderle JM. 1997. The role of animal seed dispersal in accelerating native forest regeneration on degraded tropical lands. Forest Ecol Manage 99:223–235Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. S. Cumming
    • 1
    Email author
  • G. Barnes
    • 2
  • S. Perz
    • 5
  • M. Schmink
    • 6
  • K. E. Sieving
    • 1
  • J. Southworth
    • 3
  • M. Binford
    • 3
  • R. D. Holt
    • 4
  • C. Stickler
    • 4
  • T. Van  Holt
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Wildlife Ecology and ConservationUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Geomatics ProgramUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of GeographyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  5. 5.Department of SociologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  6. 6.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations