Adaptive capacity in ecosystems

David G. Angeler, Hannah B. Fried-Petersen, Craig R. Allen, Ahjond Garmestani, Dirac Twidwell, Wen Ching Chuang, Victoria M. Donovan, Tarsha Eason, Caleb P. Roberts, Shana M. Sundstrom, Carissa L. Wonkka

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

53 Scopus citations


Understanding the capacity of ecosystems to adapt and to cope (i.e. adaptive capacity) with change is crucial to their management. However, definitions of adaptive capacity are often unclear and confusing, making application of this concept difficult. In this paper, we revisit definitions of adaptive capacity and operationalize the concept. We define adaptive capacity as the latent potential of an ecosystem to alter resilience in response to change. We present testable hypotheses to evaluate complementary attributes of adaptive capacity that may help further clarify the components and relevance of the concept. We suggest how sampling, inference and modelling can reduce key uncertainties incrementally over time and increase learning about adaptive capacity. Improved quantitative assessments of adaptive capacity are needed because of the high uncertainty about global change and its potential effect on the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to social and ecological change. An improved understanding of adaptive capacity might ultimately allow for more efficient and targeted management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationResilience in Complex Socio-ecological Systems
EditorsDavid A. Bohan, Alex J. Dumbrell
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)9780081028544
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameAdvances in Ecological Research
ISSN (Print)0065-2504


  • Adaptive capacity
  • Ecological memory
  • Ecological traits
  • Global change
  • Management
  • Resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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