, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 93–101 | Cite as

Adaptive Capacity of Social-Ecological Systems: Lessons from Immune Systems

  • Marco A. JanssenEmail author
  • Erik E. Osnas
Original Contributions


How do systems respond to disturbances? The capacity of a system to respond to disturbances varies for different types of disturbance regimes. We distinguish two types of responses: one that enables the system to absorb disturbances from an existing disturbance regime, and one that enables a system to reconstruct itself after a fundamental change in a disturbance regime. We use immune systems as a model for how systems can deal with disturbances, and use this model to derive insights in adaptive capacity of social-ecological systems. We identify a tension between the two types of responses where one benefits from learning and memory while the other requires fast-turnover of experience. We discuss how this may affect building up adaptive capacity of social-ecological systems.

Key words

disturbance regime adaptive capacity social-ecological systems immune systems resilience 



The authors thank Brian Walker and the reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this article. Support from the Resilience Alliance and the National Science Foundation (SES0083511) is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© EcoHealth Journal Consortium 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Informatics and Center for the Study of Institutions, Population and Environmental ChangeIndiana UniversityBloomington
  2. 2.Department of BiologyIndiana UniversityBloomington

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