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Trends Ecol Evol. 2017 Sep;32(9):695-713. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2017.06.014. Epub 2017 Jul 19.

Unifying Research on Social-Ecological Resilience and Collapse.

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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville 4811, QLD, Australia. Electronic address:
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.


Ecosystems influence human societies, leading people to manage ecosystems for human benefit. Poor environmental management can lead to reduced ecological resilience and social-ecological collapse. We review research on resilience and collapse across different systems and propose a unifying social-ecological framework based on (i) a clear definition of system identity; (ii) the use of quantitative thresholds to define collapse; (iii) relating collapse processes to system structure; and (iv) explicit comparison of alternative hypotheses and models of collapse. Analysis of 17 representative cases identified 14 mechanisms, in five classes, that explain social-ecological collapse. System structure influences the kind of collapse a system may experience. Mechanistic theories of collapse that unite structure and process can make fundamental contributions to solving global environmental problems.


adaptive cycle; feedback; heterarchy; social–ecological system; threshold; vulnerability

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