Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Nebraska
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Nebraska Project

Dynamics of resilience in complex adaptive systems

May 2012 - December 2017


Participating Agencies

  • USGS Powell Center

Ecosystems are a type of complex system, and as such share general rules of behavior with other types of complex adaptive systems. Research across a wide variety of disciplines has uncovered rules of system dynamics that address features of self-organization and emergence. Work in the field of ecology has proposed that resilience may be an emergent phenomenon of complex adaptive systems, and in particular, social-ecological systems. Resilience is the amount of disturbance a system can absorb or buffer while staying organized around the same key structures, processes, and functions. As our understanding of non-linear dynamics and complex systems has grown in recent years, the concept of resilience has exploded, and a great deal of work has been done to understand how resilience emerges and what system components and interactions comprise resilience. One of the key findings is summarized in the cross-scale resilience model, which proposes that the distribution of species and the functions they represent within and across the scales of an ecosystem plays a key role in system resilience. While most previous work has been explicitly focused on social-ecological systems, there is some tantalizing evidence to suggest that resilience and the cross-scale model may also be applicable to other types of complex adaptive systems, such as economies. In a more applied exploration of these ideas, the role of species abundance, coupled with their distribution of function, is an element of the cross-scale model that remains unexplored. This project has two objectives. 1. Explore the cross-scale model in greater detail at both ends of the research spectrum, building the theoretical foundations of the cross-scale model and thus its applicability to other complex adaptive systems, in order to expand understanding of the cross-scale model to incorporate species’ abundances and potentially use it as a tool for resource managers to use for identifying impending regime shifts. 2. Focus on improving our understanding of the relationship between cross-scale distributions, species abundance, and regime shifts at a system level by using a comparison of a highly disturbed river basin system (the Lower Columbia River Basin, USA) against a less disturbed basin (the Fraser River Basin, Canada).

Research Publications Publication Date
Sundstrom, S.M., T. Eason, R.J. Nelson, D.G. Angeler, C. Barichievy, A.S. Garmestani, N.A.J. Graham, D. Granholm, L. Gunderson, M. Knutson, K.L. Nash, M. Nyström, T. Spanbauer, C.A. Stow, and C.R. Allen. 2017. Detecting spatial regimes in ecological systems. Ecology Letters 20:19-32. October 2017
Sundstrom, S., C.R. Allen, A.S. Garmestani, J. Garcia, and D.G. Angeler. 2014. Transdisciplinary application of the cross-scale resilience model. Sustainability 6(10): 6925-6948. November 2014
Theses and Dissertations Publication Date
Sundstrom, S. 2018. Complex adaptive systems: cross-scale structure and resilience. Dissertation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. May 2018