Ecological Resilience

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to explain what ecological resilience is, and how humans impacts increase the need for it among plants and other animals. A short quiz will follow.

What is Ecological Resilience?

Plants and animals can be pretty resilient, but there's a limit to what they can take. If you change the climate gradually over a period of a million years, they'll probably be okay. But drop a nuclear bomb on the rainforest, and I'm pretty sure you're not going to see plants and animals recovering overnight.

Ecology is the study of interactions between organisms and their environment. Topics of study include diversity, population, and relationships between organisms. Ecological resilience is the ability of an ecosystem to respond to some kind of disturbance - a measure of how quickly it recovers.

The rainforest is a hotspot of biological diversity
The Rainforest is a Hotspot of Biological Diversity

These disturbances can be both natural and human. Fires, floods, storms, sudden introduction of new species, or sudden population explosion of current species are natural impacts that can be studied in terms of resilience. But human impacts like climate change, deforestation, oil extraction, toxic chemicals, and introducing exotic species are also part of measuring resilience.

Fires are a major natural impact, and require ecological resilience
Fires are a major natural impact, and require ecological resilience

There are two main ways to measure resilience: by looking at the time it takes for an ecosystem to return to any stable state, or by looking at how well a system can absorb a change and keep the same function and structure. This later method acknowledges that a system can be stable, yet still unhealthy.

Human Impacts on Resilience

While resilience isn't specifically about human impacts, it's the huge impacts humans are having which motivates a lot of the study on the topic, because there are many of them.

Climate change is the increase in the average global temperature, and all the effects that result from this. We currently believe that humans have caused unusually rapid climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Climate resilience looks at how an ecosystem can adapt, reorganize and evolve to sustain the system as the climate changes. Evolution can be slow, and so the current climate change trend (along with other human impacts) are causing mass extinctions.

Deforestation is the cutting down of trees, usually for human activities like farming or building. Deforestation can cause climatic conditions in the local area to change all on its own, and has huge effects on reducing biodiversity. Generally forests are able to recover 10% of their area without too much difficulty. They do this simply by spreading their seeds into the deforested area. But the larger the affected the area, the harder it becomes.

Deforestation is a major issue in the Amazon
Deforestation is a major issue in the Amazon

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