RA research is conducted in a variety of resource-use systems including:
RA researchers have been involved in the long-term studies and comparisons of 15 case studies. The results of this work appear in a 2006 special feature 'Exploring Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems' in the journal Ecology and Society.
I. Regional Research Themes
1. WATER, AGRICULTURE, LAND-USE AND RESILIENCE
The aim of the project is to increase our understanding of the role of water in sustaining resilience in social and ecological systems dominated by agricultural land use and located in regions of water related vulnerabilities. A particular focus is on agrarian systems in need of transformation, through various management related innovations. Research focuses on the dynamic relations between land use, water flows and ecological functions, spatial landscape dynamics, and feedback loops.
2. RESILIENCE AND LONG-TERM HUMAN WELL-BEING IN REGIONS WITH RESERVES
The aim is to explore how regional resilience of social-ecological systems is influenced by the nature of the reserve networks they contain, and how the resilience of the reserve networks is influenced by the state and dynamics of the matrix in which they occur. Key questions include: exploring how reserves and non-reserves interact to influence regional resilience; exploring how the nature of boundaries (which can witness positive and negative flows in both directions) can influence regional resilience; and exploring the purported role that ‘refuges’ can play in rebuilding the system after collapse.
3. THE RESILIENCE OF MARINE SYSTEMS
The Marine Resilience Program applies the resilience approach to marine social-ecological systems, building on the RA's traditional emphasis on terrestrial and lake systems. Marine science has been undergoing a dramatic paradigm-shift in recent years, with increased recognition of the role of people in the dynamics of all marine ecosystems. Fisheries science and marine ecology are beginning to blend, as the former becomes more experimental and the latter increases in spatial and temporal scale. The distinction between applied and basic marine science is becoming much less distinct.
4. URBAN RESILIENCE
In the coming decades, the world’s rapid urbanization will be one of the greatest challenges to the resilience of human welfare and the global environment. These transforming cities represent the engines of economic growth for the developing world and, in all regions, will continue to be the centers of innovation, culture, and the arts. These same cities, however, are the loci of increasing poverty, pollution, disease, political instability, and social inequality. The transformation of surrounding land due to urban expansion and urban dwellers’ ever-increasing demand for energy, food, goods, and other resources is behind the degradation of local and regional environments, threatening basic ecosystem services and global biodiversity. A research prospectus has been developed for the Urban Resilience program.II. Cross-Cutting Theory Development
1. A new theory program is under development (led by Steve Carpenter, Carl Folke and others). The thrust is to gain a better understanding of transformations in SESs that have been subject to great disturbance, or that for some other reason are changing radically. The backloop is the most mysterious and unpredictable phase of change in complex systems, yet also the phase where the most exciting, influential and novel events happen. Briefly, the program will have five interlocking elements, each involving several RA researchers and nodes. These elements are:
The project includes innovative theory and modeling, carefully-chosen case studies, and outreach through the global experiments in backloop dynamics.
2. An on-going project on thresholds and regime shifts. It began as a joint initiative with the Santa Fe Institute's "Robustness" project with an evolving database of threshold examples, available on the RA website. The aim is to develop a typology of thresholds in ecosystems and social-ecological systems. The database will shortly be of sufficient size to warrant initial analyses aimed at a typology of thresholds and regime shifts.
Integration of I. and II.
Analyses of resilience, adaptability and transformability in SESs for the development of guidelines and principles for interventions in regard to (i) governance (including institutions and policy), (ii) investment, and (iii) management, aimed at enhancing long-term net social benefit.A variety of methods and approaches are being used to tackle this research agenda. They fall broadly into: