Taking resilience back to its ecological roots 

A CEED NERP workshop (Rottnest Island, December 2013)

  Gunning for resilience at Rottnest Island: (from right to left) are Brandon Bestelmeyer (New Mexico State Uni, New Mexico), Andrew Denham (Office of Environment & Heritage, NSW ), Jane Catford (Uni of Melb), Jodi Price (UWA), John Dwyer (Uni of Qld), James Gilmour (AIMS, Western Australia), Takehiro Sasaki (Uni of Tokyo, Japan), Natasha Banning (UWA), Brian Starzomski (Uni of Victoria, Canada), Chuck Price (UWA), Rachel Standish (UWA), Nancy Shackelford (Uni of Victoria, Canada), Lauren Hallett (Uni of California Berkeley, USA), Loretta Battaglia (Southern Illinois University, USA), Richard Hobbs (UWA) and Mats Dynesius, (Umea University, Sweden). (Photographer and workshop assistant: Mandy Trueman, UWA).

Gunning for resilience at Rottnest Island: (from right to left) are Brandon Bestelmeyer (New Mexico State Uni, New Mexico), Andrew Denham (Office of Environment & Heritage, NSW ), Jane Catford (Uni of Melb), Jodi Price (UWA), John Dwyer (Uni of Qld), James Gilmour (AIMS, Western Australia), Takehiro Sasaki (Uni of Tokyo, Japan), Natasha Banning (UWA), Brian Starzomski (Uni of Victoria, Canada), Chuck Price (UWA), Rachel Standish (UWA), Nancy Shackelford (Uni of Victoria, Canada), Lauren Hallett (Uni of California Berkeley, USA), Loretta Battaglia (Southern Illinois University, USA), Richard Hobbs (UWA) and Mats Dynesius, (Umea University, Sweden). (Photographer and workshop assistant: Mandy Trueman, UWA).

Resilience is a foundational concept of ecology and, more recently, has become central to conceiving how ecosystems might cope—or not—with environmental change. Despite its potential importance to decisions for conservation and environmental management, confusion about how to define and measure resilience has impeded its application to decision making.
Resilience was first introduced to the ecological literature with a clear and concise definition: the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb change and disturbance, and still maintain the same relationships between populations or ecosystem variables. By this definition, resilience informs ecosystem management because it helps to predict the rate and extent of ecosystem recovery after disturbance. The aim of our workshop was to assemble experimental data to compare the extent and speed of recovery from disturbance across different ecosystems and types of disturbances. In doing so, we intend to learn more about resilience and improve its practical application to ecosystem management.
We identified 20 community ecologists with experimental data describing the recovery of ecosystems to disturbance, and invited them to our workshop at Rottnest Island in December 2013. Ecologists came from Sweden, Japan, North America, Canada and Australia with datasets from boreal forest, Mongolian rangelands, grasslands, coral reefs and temperate streams to name a few.

Plant communities are well represented among the datasets but we also have data describing the recovery of communities of liverworts, soil microbes, kelp and fishes to disturbances that range from fire, drought, mining, livestock grazing and hurricanes.

“The aim of our workshop was to assemble experimental data to compare the extent and speed of recovery from disturbance across different ecosystems and types of disturbances.”

The first day of the workshop was devoted to a brief discussion of concepts and to familiarizing people with the datasets (and, importantly, the wonders of Rottnest Island—namely beaches, bikes, beers and quokkas). The second day of the workshop was split between a discussion of options for response and explanatory variables and, critically, how to make these comparable across the different ecosystems and disturbance types for use in a meta­analysis.
As a group, we agreed on a response variable to use in the first instance based on the Bray-Curtis index of similarity between communities before and after disturbance. Discussions regarding explanatory variables are ongoing; the final variables are likely to include metrics describing the nature of the disturbance, connectivity and the relative importance of abiotic and biotic filters to community recovery.

Brandon, Natasha, Takehiro, Richard and Lauren discuss explanatory variables on the second day of the workshop. (Photo by Mandy Trueman).

Brandon, Natasha, Takehiro, Richard and Lauren discuss explanatory variables on the second day of the workshop. (Photo by Mandy Trueman).

Having made solid progress by the end of day two, the group broke for a cycle around the island followed by a meal at the local pub.

The final day of the workshop was devoted to an overview of progress on the main project and to discussion of ideas for additional projects. Analysis for the main project is underway with the aim of preparing a manuscript by mid-2014. Additional projects include an exploration of the link between biotic and abiotic recovery, the contribution of species richness to resilience and the contribution of scaling theory to the measurement of resilience. We extend our thanks to the participants for actively engaging in the aims of the workshop and helping to make our first workshop a success.


More info: Rachel Standish rachel.standish@uwa.edu.au

 

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