Ecological resilience, climate change, and the Great Barrier Reef

McCook, Laurence J., Folke, Carl, Hughes, Terry, Nyström, Magnus, Obura, David, and Salm, Rodney (2007) Ecological resilience, climate change, and the Great Barrier Reef. In: Johnson, Joanna E., and Marshall, Paul A., (eds.) Climate Change and the Great Barrier Reef: a vulnerability assessment. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, Qld, Australia, pp. 75-96.

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Abstract

The vulnerability assessments in this volume frequently refer to the resilience of various ecosystem elements in the face of climate change. This chapter provides an introduction to the concept of ecological resilience, and its application as part of a management response to climate change threats. As defined in the glossary, resilience refers to the capacity of a system to absorb shocks, resist dramatic changes in condition, and maintain or recover key functions and processes, without undergoing "phase shifts" to a qualitatively different state (Figure 4.1)32, 72. For example, people who are physically and mentally fit and strong will have good prospect of recovery from disease, injury or trauma: they are resilient.

In Figure 4.1, a ball placed at position 1 is dynamically stable: not only will it remain in position, but if pushed in any direction, it will return to its original position; thus the ball in this state is resilient, in that it can absorb shocks and return to a similar condition or state. In contrast, a ball placed at position 2 may be initially stable (it will remain in position if undisturbed) but not dynamically stable: if disturbed, it will move away. Thus the ball at position 2 is not resilient, and disturbances will result in a shift in state. If the ball at position 1 is disturbed to anywhere within the red circle, the ball will return to position 1; however, if disturbed further, the ball may not return, but may move to a new, alternate stable state (eg position 3). This system is resilient to disturbances that push it within the red boundary. However, if external factors decreased the depth of position 1, or lowered the saddle at point 2, then the system's resilience would be reduced. By analogy to coral reef ecosystems, position 1 might be a coral-dominated reef, and position 3 algal dominated. A disturbance such as killing coral that is overgrown by algae would move the reef toward an algal-dominated state; if the reef is resilient, this change would be temporary and natural processes would allow coral to re-establish and recover. If not, the algal dominance might be sufficient to preclude coral regrowth or recruitment, and the reef would change trajectory, moving toward algal dominance.

Ecological resilience refers to the capacity of an ecosystem, habitat, population or taxon to withstand, recover from or adapt to impacts and stressors, such as climate change, and retain the same structure, processes and functions³². For example, coral reefs are naturally very dynamic, undergoing constant change and disturbances, but, under natural conditions, they have considerable capacity to recover or maintain key processes and functions in the face of such disturbances or pressures. Tropical storms may cause dramatic damage to coral populations, and hence to the physical habitat structure, with dead coral being overgrown by various forms of algae. This will result in a temporarily changed state, and changes in ecological functions. On a resilient reef, over a period of five to 20 years, the altered state is unstable: coral fragments will regrow, and new corals will settle, grow and gradually replace the algae, restoring the reef to coral dominance, and restoring ecological structure and processes. In contrast, however, if human impacts have undermined that resilience, algal growth may be exacerbated, coral regrowth and colonisation may be suppressed, and the altered state and processes may become stable, causing a long-term "phase shift", or change, to algal dominance.

Item ID: 26662
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-1-876945-61-9
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Date Deposited: 10 Jul 2013 03:58
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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