Can we manage for resilience? An ecological history and some steps forward
In a world experiencing rapid changes in climate, disturbance regimes, and land use, managing for resilience to future threats has become an essential goal in environmental policy and land management. However, in many settings, it remains unclear how to actually incorporate resilience into management frameworks. We face a series of challenges: how to assess resilience across complex landscapes, how to identify the components that impart resilience, and how to develop ways to incorporate this understanding into management decision making. Over the last decade in California, we have collaborated with land managers to conduct experiments aimed at better understanding the resilience of native grassland and coastal sage communities to invasion, and the associated dependencies on environmental change (nitrogen deposition, decreased precipitation) and perturbation (high-intensity fire) thresholds.
These examples emphasize that resilience can be both desirable and undesirable in a management context: it can allow conserved landscapes to better withstand future threats and can assist recovery of degraded lands, or it can stymie change and require management intervention to spur recovery. In addition, they point to the great potential of understanding feedbacks that underlie resilience, utilizing them to enhance or break resilience cycles, or in severe cases, to modify management goals.