Dynamics of Growth, Conservation, Collapse and Renewal

An explicit challenge for our Alaska field teaching: How to enable students to see and understand dynamics of growth, conservation, collapse and renewal in our biophysical and social landscape? And then be able to apply the conceptual system literally and metaphorically elsewhere. Understanding the difference between literal and metaphorical. Along side, and complementary to, other ways of knowing.
Likely because of innate brain differences, a minority will easily pick up on this way of thinking. It’s important to reach that subset of students, for their benefit and for society. Then how best to bring in others, for whom it’s more of a reach, to open their minds in this direction, to the extent of their ability.


The adaptive cycle and its extension to panarchy (nested adaptive cycles) has been a useful metaphor and conceptual model for understanding long-term dynamics of change in ecological and social–ecological systems. We argue that adaptive cycles are ubiquitous in complex adaptive systems because they reflect endogenously generated dynamics as a result of processes of self-organization and evolution. We synthesize work from a wide array of fields to support this claim. If dynamics of growth, conservation, collapse and renewal are endogenous dynamics of complex adaptive systems, then there ought to be signals of system change over time that reflect this. We describe a series of largely thermodynamically based indicators that have been developed for this purpose, and we add a critical and heretofore missing component–namely, that of understanding dynamics of change (adaptive cycles) at objectively identified spatial and temporal scales nested within each system, instead of solely at the system level. The explicit consideration of scales, when coupled with selective indicators, may circumvent the need for multiple indicators to capture system dynamics and will provide a richer picture of system trajectory than that offered by a single-scale analysis. We describe feasible ways in which researchers could systematically and quantitatively look for signatures of adaptive cycle dynamics at scales within ecosystems, rather than relying on metaphor and largely qualitative descriptions.

–Sundstrom, Shana M., and Craig R. Allen. “The Adaptive Cycle: More than a Metaphor.” Ecological Complexity 39 (August 1, 2019): 100767. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecocom.2019.100767.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s