The glossary provides clear and accessible definitions, based on current usage of the terms in the scientific literature by RA researchers. The glossary aims to improve understanding of relevant concepts by delivering a definition of each term, a referenced source for the definition, and in some cases, an additional layer of information.

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Term Definition
Adaptability Adaptability is the capacity of actors in a system to manage resilience, either by moving the system toward or away from a threshold that would fundamentally alter the properties of the system, or by altering the underlying features of the stability landscape (change the positions of thresholds, and the ease of movement of the system).
Further Information: Walker, B., C. S. Holling, S. R. Carpenter, and A. Kinzig. 2004. Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 9(2): 5. [online] URL:
Adaptive capacity The capacity to adapt to and shape change.
Further Information: Berkes F. and C. Folke, eds. 1998. Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Adaptive cycle The adaptive cycle is a metaphor used to describe four commonly occurring phases of change in complex systems. The four phases are: exploitation, conservation, creative destruction, and renewal (also referred to as r, K, omega, alpha).
Further Information: Holling, C.S. 1986. The resilience of terrestrial ecosystems; local surprise and global change. In: W.C. Clark and R.E. Munn (eds.). Sustainable Development of the Biosphere. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. Chap. 10: 292-317.
Adaptive Governance Institutional and political frameworks designed to adapt to changing relationships between society and ecosystems in ways that sustain ecosystem services; expands the focus from adaptive management of ecosystems to address te broader socail contexts that enable ecosystem-based management.
Further Information: Carpenter, S.R. and C. Folke (2006) Ecology for transformation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution (in press, available online at

Dietz, T. et al. (2003) The struggle to govern the commons. Science 302, 1902-1912.

Folke, C. et al. (2005) Adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. Annu. Rev. Environ. Res. 30, 441-473.

Adaptive management Adaptive management is a systematic process for continually adjusting policies and practices by learning from the outcome of previously used policies and practices. Each management action is viewed as a scientific experiment designed to test hypotheses and probe the system as a way of learning about the system.
Further Information: Holling, C. S. (1978). Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management. Wiley, London. Reprinted by Blackburn Press in 2005. AND Walters, C. J. (1986). Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources. New York, McGraw Hill.

Carpenter, S.R. and C. Folke (2006). Ecology for transformation. TREE (in press, available online at

Alpha phase One of the four phases of the adaptive cycle. A phase in which the system reorganizes following some disturbance and a time for innovation and restructuring.
Further Information: Holling, C. S. 1986. Resilience of ecosystems; local surprise and global change. pp. 292-317 in Sustainable Development of the Biosphere, W. C. Clark and R. E. Munn, editors. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Capital In general, capital in the Resilience Alliance discourse refers to those elements in a mature system which make possible the extended existence of that system within its larger context.
Further Information:
Complex adaptive systems Systems of people and nature in which complexity emerges from a small set of critical processes that create and maintain the self-organizing properties of the system.
Further Information: Holling, C.S. 2001. Understanding the complexity of economic, ecological, and social systems. Ecosystems 4: 390-405.
Cross-scale Influences between the dynamics of systems at one scale and the dyanamics of those that are embedded in it or enfold it.
Further Information: C. S. Holling, L. H. Gunderson and G. D. Peterson, Sustainability and Panarchies, p. 63-102 in Gunderson and Holling (eds.), 2002, Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, Washington: Island Press.
Disturbance In ecological terms, disturbance is a relatively discrete event in time coming from the outside, that disrupts ecosystems, communities, or populations, changes substrates and resource availability, and creates opportunities for new individuals or colonies to become established.
Further Information: Smith, R.L. 1990. Ecology and Field Biology (fourth ed.). Harper Collins, New York.
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