Response diversity, ecosystem change, and resilience

Elmqvist, T., Folke, C., Nyström, M., Peterson, G., Bengtsson, J., Walker, B., & Norberg, J. (2003). Response diversity, ecosystem change, and resilience. The Ecological Society of America, 1(9), 488-493.

“Nature is not fragile... what is fragile are the ecosystems services on which humans depend” (Levin 1999)

Elmqvist et al. expand upon this quote through the concept of response diversity as a way of sustaining and enhancing desired ecosystem functions despite all the human influenced environmental stress ecosystems have had to challenge. Response diversity can be defined as the range of reactions to environmental change among species contributing to the same ecosystem function, critical to resilience, particularly during periods of ecosystem reorganization. While this concept is more recent to the field of ecological restoration, sciences such as neurology and oncology have a similar conceptual understanding of response. The paper also acknowledges that several local groups and societies worldwide have managed for diverse response for centuries. 

As a product of the Resilience Alliance the literature defines and provides examples within four varied ecosystems exhibiting response diversity; seed dispersers in tropical forest systems, plants in rangelands, freshwater detritivores and coral reef grazers. Through each of these examples, the inherently conforming nature of diversity with a large capacity and adaptability is obvious. 

The authors suggest that response diversity is very much a manageable and tangible method across all ecosystem scales. Used particularly within a restoration project, response diversity provides resilience at the species level which then affects the entire ecosystem strength.

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