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Resilience and the Co-Evolution of Ecosystems and Institutions

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Folke, Carl; Berkes, Fikret
Conference: Reinventing the Commons, the Fifth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bodoe, Norway
Conf. Date: May 24-28, 1995
Date: 1995
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1357
Sector: Theory
Region: North America
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
property rights
resource management
Cree (North American people)
adaptive systems
Abstract: "Resilience is the ability of a system to cope with change without collapsing. It is the capacity to absorb external perturbations, by actively adapting to an ever changing environment. Reduction in resilience means that vulnerability increases, with the risk that the whole system flips from one equilibrium state to another. Such flips are often a consequence of the misuse of the environment and the inertia of institutions to change. Smaller unpredictable perturbations that previously could be handled turn into major crises when extreme events intersect with internally generated vulnerability due to loss of resilience. To avoid such situations there is a need for institutions with the ability to respond to and manage environmental feedbacks, institutions that can cope with unpredictable perturbations before they accumulate and challenge the existence of the whole social-ecological system. This implies that it is not enough to only understand the institution in question. The dynamics of the ecosystems that form the biophysical precondition for the existence of the institution need to be taken into account as well. This study focuses on the linked social-ecological system, and its dynamic interrelationships. We regard it as one system with its social and ecological components co-evolving over time. It is in this context that we study traditional and newly-emergent social-ecological systems. We are analyzing 1) how the local social system has adapted to and developed a knowledge system for dealing with the dynamics of the ecosystem(s) including the resources and services that it generates, 2) specifically, how the local system maintains ecosystem resilience in the face of perturbations, and 3) those combinations of property rights arrangements, institutions, and knowledge systems which accomplish the above successfully. Examples will be presented from the Cree Indians of the Canadian eastern subartic and their resource management, and pastoral herders and rangeland management in semi-arid Africa."

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