Resilience in ecotoxicology: Toward a multiple equilibrium concept

Mirco Bundschuh, Ralf Schulz, Ralf B. Schäfer, Craig R. Allen, David G. Angeler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The term resilience describes stress–response patterns across scientific disciplines. In ecology, advances have been made to clearly define resilience based on underlying mechanistic assumptions. Engineering resilience (rebound) is used to describe the ability of organisms to recover from adverse conditions (disturbances), which is termed the rate of recovery. By contrast, the ecological resilience definition considers a systemic change, that is, when ecosystems reorganize into a new regime following disturbance. Under this new regime, structural and functional aspects change considerably relative to the previous regime, without recovery. In this context, resilience is an emergent property of complex systems. In the present study, we argue that both definitions and uses are appropriate in ecotoxicology, and although the differences are subtle, the implications and uses are profoundly different. We discuss resilience concepts in ecotoxicology, where the prevailing view of resilience is engineering resilience from chemical stress. Ecological resilience may also be useful for describing systemic ecological changes because of chemical stress. We present quantitative methods that allow ecotoxicologists and risk managers to assess whether an ecosystem faces an impending regime shift or whether it has already undergone such a shift. We contend that engineering and ecological resilience help to distinguish ecotoxicological responses to chemical stressors mechanistically and thus have implications for theory, policy, and application. Environ Toxicol Chem 2017;36:2574–2580.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2574-2580
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Communities
  • Ecological resilience
  • Ecosystem response
  • Engineering resilience
  • Risk assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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