3.2 Cross-Scale Interactions: Influences from Below and Above

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Managing resilience at a particular focal scale requires understanding how the focal system interacts with larger scale systems in which it is embedded as well as with the smaller scale systems of which it is comprised.

Example: Interactions across scales - forest firesKnowing which phase(s) of the adaptive cycle these connected systems are presently in can help guide management to reduce vulnerabilities in the focal system caused by system dynamics at other scales. Management actions targeted at larger scale systems to foster memory can help the focal system to retain valued components following disturbance events. Alternatively, when changing the system is the goal, then efforts to break constraints imposed by systems at larger scales may be most effective.

Key Messages

• A system at a particular scale will usually be comprised of smaller sub-systems as well as being nested itself within larger systems.

• Systems interact across multiple scales (see section 1.2) with processes occurring at one scale influencing system dynamics at other scales. This nested set of interacting systems represented by adaptive cycles—from small to large—is referred to as a Panarchy.

• The resilience of a focal system is in large part determined by the interaction of systems across this Panarchy.

• Smaller-scale sub-systems can enhance resilience of the focal system by introducing innovation and novelty to counteract inflexibility at the focal scale.

• Smaller-scale sub-systems can reduce resilience in the focal system if they are very tightly linked, i.e., in similar phases of the adaptive cycle. In such a case, disturbance can rapidly spread across scales, creating a cascading collapse of systems.

• Historically, management of natural resources had a tendency to suppress adaptive cycles at smaller scales, thus reducing the resilience of the focal scale. For instance, for a long time the fire policy in the U.S. was to suppress all fires, even small-scale fires. This resulted in forest patches of similar age (similar phase in the adaptive cycle), so that after a period of time, freshly ignited fires spread much more rapidly, threatening the larger forest. Allowing fires at smaller scales maintains a forest mosaic with stands of different ages, which helps to contain fires and prevent more massive events.

• Larger scale systems can help provide the ‘memory’ that allows the next adaptive cycle to be similar to the current one.

• Memory can be a positive thing when it allows us to retain valued resources, traditions, norms, and interactions.

• Memory is not necessarily always a good thing. At times it may be desirable to enter a new adaptive cycle and this may require breaking the constraints from above to allow room for innovation and change.

• Innovation and change may require loosening the connections between the focal scale and the larger scales and cultivating tolerance for new and alternative ideas, resources, and other sources of novelty.

Resilience Assessment

In the assessment that follows you will identify the current adaptive cycle phases of the finer-scale subsystems of your focal system in order to detect vulnerabilities and consider management options for addressing such vulnerabilities. You will also assess the relationship between the focal scale and larger scales, identifying the positive and negative aspects of that relationship and devising management strategies to enhance the positive aspects and diminish the negative ones.

Consult the table of sub-systems and super-systems you completed in section 1.2. What phases of the adaptive cycle are your finer scale sub-systems in? Note that a focal scale will be made up of several sub-systems at each finer scale. For example, if the focal scale is a particular watershed, the finer scale would be the sub-catchment scale, but many sub-catchments make up the larger watershed. Similarly, the focal scale may be a city, the finer scale the neighborhood, but the city is made up of several neighborhoods Are each of these sub-systems at the finer scale(s) in a similar phase of the adaptive cycle, or different phases? How does this pattern depend on domain (social, economic, and ecological)?

Is the learning and innovation from back loops at finer scales being captured at the focal scale? If not, what mechanisms can be put into place for capturing this innovation and learning, and incorporating needed flexibility at the focal scale? Enter any action items on the sheets provided.

What phase of the adaptive cycle do the larger-scale systems (i.e. larger than your focal-scale system) appear to be in?

What are the main larger-scale influences on your focal system? Does memory exist mostly in the ecological, economic and/or social domains?

Consider the past adaptive cycles you identified in section 3.1. How many new adaptive cycles replicate older ones? What sources of memory might have been acting in the system then?

Considering the phases of the adaptive cycle in which you find your focal system and the larger-scale systems, in what ways do the larger-scale systems (in both ecological and social components) constrain the focal system? How have inputs from larger-scale systems fostered change or resisted change in your focal system?

As an initial assessment, would you say there is a good balance between flexibility and efficiency in your focal system? In other words, is your focal system likely to avoid moving into a late ‘conservation’ phase?

What management strategies are needed, if any, to enhance memory from larger scales or reduce constraints? (Consider all the domains – ecological, social, and economic.) Enter any action items on the sheets provided.

Is your focal system in a conservation phase? Are the finer scale sub-systems also in a conservation phase? If both the focal system and sub-systems are all in a conservation phase, then there is an increased risk of disturbance cascading across scales. Are conditions such that you may want to create large-scale change in your focal system?

If the nested set of systems is aligned in the conservation phase, but large-scale change is to be avoided, what management strategies might help break this alignment? What costs or challenges might come from breaking this alignment? Can you put into place programs to minimize the costs, or make them tolerable? Enter any action items on the sheets provided.

Note that the alignment of systems (i.e. nested systems in the same adaptive cycle phase) cannot always be readily broken, in which case action should be taken to prepare for a back loop (release and reorganization). Enter any action items on the sheets provided.

If the constraints from the larger-scale system are too stringent, are there individuals or organizations that you can approach to discuss how to weaken these constraints in order to build resilience and flexibility? Who are those individuals and organizations? What materials would be needed to begin the dialog. Devise a plan for interacting with these people. Enter any action items on the sheets provided.

3.1 Cycles of Change: The Adaptive Cycle

3.2 Cross-Scale Interactions: Influences from Below and Above

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