Sustainability Science

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 407–421 | Cite as

Multiscale system dynamics of humans and nature in The Bahamas: perturbation, knowledge, panarchy and resilience

  • Arnd HoldschlagEmail author
  • Beate M. W. Ratter
Special Feature: Original Article Understanding and Managing Global Change in Small Islands


The analysis of the dynamic interactions between social systems, integrated by governance and communication, and biophysical systems, connected by material and energy flows, remains a challenge. In this paper, we draw on the heuristic models of the “adaptive renewal cycle” and “panarchy” [Gunderson and Holling (eds) Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Island Press, Washington, 2002], which are embedded in the theory of complex adaptive systems. Taking island development research in The Bahamas as a case study, we investigate environmental stressors, knowledge and social response in the context of three distinct social–ecological subsystems: (1) the interaction between tropical storms/hurricanes and the social system of disaster preparedness/management; (2) coastal ecosystem degradation coupled with land development; and (3) the fishery, in which we also consider the impact of a recent biological invasion, the Indo-Pacific red lionfish. The findings demonstrate the complexity of panarchical relations and the crucial role of diverse and uncertain knowledge systems and underlying mental models of risk and environment for resilience and sustainability. These are acquired at different scales and form key variables of change. This also applies to processes of communication. Bringing together the various constantly evolving multi-level knowledge systems for effective communication and decision-making remains a major challenge.


Complex social–ecological systems Panarchy Resilience Knowledge systems Caribbean The Bahamas 



We thank the participants of the graduate fieldwork course “Social–Ecological Resilience in The Bahamas” (Institute of Geography, University of Hamburg, Germany, 2010/11) for their contributions to the empirical data collection on The Bahamas.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of GeographyUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Coastal ResearchHelmholtz-Zentrum GeesthachtGeesthachtGermany

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