Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project F090140

    Towards a framework for the operational assessment of ecological resilience in temperate and boreal ecosystems
Project lead: Campbell, Elizabeth (Ministry of Forests and Range)
Contributing Authors: Campbell, Elizabeth M.; Saunders, Sari; MacKillop, Deb J.; Haeussler, Sybille
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
All BC ecosystems have been altered to some extent by human activities. These alterations range from local changes in species populations and rates ecosystem processes caused by forest and range use, urban and agricultural development, and invasive alien species, to global changes in atmospheric chemistry and climate that alter species ranges and disturbance regimes. Environmental change threatens the sustainable provision of ecosystem services (e.g., clean air, water & soils; food, wood & fibre; moderation of floods, droughts & other weather extremes; plant pollination; recreational opportunities; spiritual values) that enhance societal well-being.
To achieve long-term sustainability in a time of rapid environmental change, we need to understand the dynamics of ecological systems. Ecological resilience theory (Gunderson & Holling 2002; Walker et al. 2004) offers valuable insight into the complexities of ecosystem dynamics. In 2006, the Chief Forester’s Future Forests Ecosystems Initiative (FFEI) proposed that British Columbia’s forest and range management framework be adapted to incorporate ecological resilience concepts. Ecological resilience theory shows that: (1) ecosystems are typically governed by a relatively few key ecological processes that operate across a defined range of spatial and temporal scales. scales of space & time, (2): ecosystems differ greatly in their ability to either persist or adapt when stresses are imposed. A forest and range management framework guided by ecological resilience theory should be able to:
• identify valued ecosystem services
• define the key ecological processes for specific ecosystems
• describe the effects of stressors on those processes
• predict potential trajectories of ecosystem change
• project how ecosystem services will be affected by the predicted changes
• identify how management practices must change to sustain ecosystem services
Although ecological resilience theory greatly improves understanding of how ecosystems function and respond to change, its multi-scaled, non-linear approach to problem-solving can be difficult to understand initially, and can be challenging to operationalize. Nevertheless, a growing number of examples, world-wide, are demonstrating that resilience science can be successfully applied to real-world problems (Bellwood et al. 2004; Hughes et al. 2007).
Our project will develop a working framework within which operational measures of ecological resilience can be assessed & hypotheses about future conditions can be tested. We will illustrate the framework with case study ecosystems located in each of BC’s three Forest Regions. We will present our results using clear language and graphics that will help managers, field personnel and the general public to better understand how complex ecosystems respond to environmental change. This work will also help prioritize research & monitoring activities & suggest clear strategies for managing ecosystems to enhance their resilience.

Bellwood, D.R., Hughes, T.P., Folke, C. & M. Nystroem. 2004. Confronting the coral reef crisis. Nature 429:827-833.
Gunderson, L. & Holling, C.S. 2001. Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Island Press, Washington, DC.
Hughes, T.P. et al. 2007. Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef & the Grand Canyon world heritage areas. Ambio 36:586–592
Walker, B., Holling, C.S., Carpenter, S., & Kinzig, A. 2004 Resilience, adaptability, & transformability in soci-ecological systems. Ecology & Society: 9:5.


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Updated August 16, 2010 

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