Dynamic properties of complex adaptive ecosystems: implications for the sustainability of service provision

Terence P. Dawson, Mark D. A. Rounsevell, Tatiana Kluvankova-Oravska, Veronika Chobotova, Andrew Stirling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Predicting environmental change and its impacts on ecosystem goods and services at local to global scales remains a significant challenge for the international scientific community. This is due largely to the fact that the Earth is made up of open, coupled, complex, interactive and non-linear dynamic systems that are inherently unpredictable. Uncertainties over interactions and feedbacks between natural and human drivers of environmental change (operating at different spatial and temporal scales) can compound intrinsic intractable difficulties faced by plural societies aiming at sustainable management of ecosystems. Social-Ecological Systems (SES) theory addresses these strongly coupled and complex characteristics of social and ecological systems. It can provide a useful framework for articulating contrasting drivers and pressures on ecosystems and associated service provision, spanning different temporalities and provenances. Here, system vulnerabilities (defined as exposure to threats affecting ability of an SES to cope in delivering relevant functions), can arise from both endogenous and exogenous factors across multiple time-scales. Vulnerabilities may also take contrasting forms, ranging from transient shocks or disruptions, through to chronic or enduring pressures. Recognising these diverse conditions, four distinct dynamic properties emerge (resilience, stability, durability and robustness), under which it is possible to maintain system function and, hence, achieve sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2843-2853
Number of pages11
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010


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