Reflections from the Monday plenary session “(C4): Cross-scale dynamics and resilience”

“One of the best parts of being a professor is being able to make shit up,” professor Lance Gunderson from Emory University, US, declared during his presentation to a diverse audience of scientists, artists, and sustainability practitioners. With an obviously light-hearted, yet serious approach, Gunderson described his views on the past, present, and future use of panarchy in scientific endeavors. Panarchy can be defined as a system within a system within a system within a system… well, you get it. Each of these systems is influenced by properties within itself AND by systems that are, for example, larger and/or smaller than itself.

As a macroecologist, panarchy is a useful way of thinking about what is driving the persistence and dynamics (or goings-on) in natural systems at large (hence, macro) scales. I am highly interested in identifying and understanding the drivers behind patterns and processes occurring at continental and global scales. To do this in a manner that is useful for society, however, I cannot limit the scope of my research and interests to a single spatial scale at some point in time. I could easily and fairly simply identify patterns in natural systems at the global scale like satellites can but identifying patterns does not help us understand if or how these patterns affect our ability to persist over time. To be successful, I must incorporate knowledge about the systems within the systems within the systems within the, oh you get it… system of interest. Each of these systems are (1) influencing each other (just as the actions you take as an individual will, in many unpredictable and probability unnoticeable ways, influence me!) and (2) nested within some other system(s), thereby exchanging information and energy, influencing those systems both smaller and larger than itself.

Elena Bennett from McGill University, Canada, presented the project Seeds of Good of a Anthropocene, an interesting example of the above-mentioned concept of panarchy. This project seeks to provide specific services or product to a community in need with the end goal of slowing or decreasing the degradation a community is having on some element of their natural surroundings.

Garry Peterson, session organizer and researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, moderated a brief Q & A after the talks of Gunderson and Bennett that yielded in opinionated views on the future of panarchy in resilience science, and human and natural systems research.

The approach of panarchical thinking is messy, complex, and often complicated – but ignoring these complexities may yield incorrect, and/or useless conclusions. Perhaps it is best to end my interpretation of this session with an eloquent statement from Elena Bennett.The following is my interpretation of Bennett’s answer to a question posed during the Q & A, “what is the applicability of panarchy theory?”:

We know that that 2 + 2 = 4, and that it always = 4. By allowing for new and unknown answers (surpirses), panarchy theory, allows the possibility that 2 + 2 ≠ 4.

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Jessica Burnett is a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebrsaka-Lincoln in Nebraska, U.S. Her research explores the use of statistical and modelling techniques for identifying rapid changes in wildlife communities across space and time. She is also interested in using existing data to identify areas and systems vulnerable to the effects of climate change and globalisation.


Follow and join the discussions on social media: @ResilienceSTHLM  

Hashtags: #ResFrontiers #Res2017

Send your questions: #Res2017Q