Sustainability Science

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 797–813 | Cite as

Community-led reforestation: cultivating the potential of virtuous cycles to confer resilience in disaster disrupted social–ecological systems

  • Keith G. TidballEmail author
  • Sara Metcalf
  • Mark Bain
  • Thomas Elmqvist
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Disaster Preparedness and Risk Management


Human relationships with trees can result in widespread citizen-led reforestation projects that catalyze social–biological-reinforcing feedback loops and set in motion virtuous cycles that restore perturbed social–ecological systems. These virtuous cycles confer resilience in such systems that counterbalance the tendency for vicious cycles to be triggered by destructive behavior and neglect. Given this argument, we ask: how do we cultivate the potential for virtuous cycles to confer resilience in social–ecological systems? To answer this question, we review feedback mechanisms and identify virtuous cycles catalyzed via ecological restoration to highlight their importance to the resilience of social–ecological systems. We then conceptualize these cycles with a causal map (also known as a causal loop diagram) illustrating an example where restoration activities and civic ecology practices contributed to feedbacks and virtuous cycles. Following from this example, we discuss approaches for recognizing and investing in virtuous cycles that accompany social–ecological systems and outline approaches for managing such cycles.


Disaster Resilience Virtuous cycles Hurricane Katrina New Orleans Social–ecological systems 



The authors acknowledge helpful encouragement from Marianne Krasny, Richard Stedman, and Max Pfeffer. We appreciate assistance furnished by Jean Fahr of Parkway Partners in New Orleans, and by Monique Pilie of Hike for KaTREEna, also in New Orleans. We are grateful to the leadership of the Community Forestry and Environmental Research Fellowships Program for providing the initial funding for this work, in particular Louise Fortmann, Jill Belsky, Marla Emery, and Jonathan Long. We remember and honor the work and life of fellow author and friend Mark Bain (1955–2012).


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith G. Tidball
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sara Metcalf
    • 2
  • Mark Bain
    • 1
  • Thomas Elmqvist
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity at BuffaloBuffaloUSA
  3. 3.Stockholm University and Stockholm Resilience CenterStockholmSweden

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