Home » What is Resilience?
New research and a new approach referred to as terrestrial resilience, or Conserving Natures Stage, can help land managers identify the places (the stage) to protect today that will likely support a variety of plants and animals (actors) tomorrow. This approach to resilience, studied for more than a decade by scientists at The Nature Conservancy, has found that to protect diversity we must focus on three elements: the complexity of land forms, the connectivity of natural systems, and a variety of geology types. In other words, we must preserve lands that are diverse both above and below ground and connected to other protected lands. These complex and connected landscapes offer a wide range of micro-climates which can help facilitate plants and animals to adapt to changes.
Because we are expecting a great many environmental changes as the world warms, the resilience of an ecosystem is highly relevant as land trusts consider which places to protect.
Through the development of this approach, the Nature Conservancy mapped the locations of climate-resilient sites. To date, four geographic regions are mapped and the remainder should be completed over the next few years.
Land trusts already are taking actions to build resilience by:
By bringing climate science into strategic conservation planning efforts land trusts can intentionally protect resilient sites and build more resilience into the landscape. For example, groups with missions that include protecting habitat for keystone species have often identified migration corridors and transitional ecosystems that support many life-cycle stages for species such as salmon, bears, and migratory birds. Such conservation work can be done at large or small scales – for example, in Vermont, the Vermont Land Trust targeted a small parcel connecting the Green Mountains and the Taconic ranges to support safe black bear migration, a small step that can make a big difference for this large migratory mammal. The North Florida Land Trust has used 26 natural resource criteria to map and prioritize strategic conservation objectives in a seven-county region. The resulting North Florida Conservation Priorities map offers a quantitative guide of conservation values, informing acquisition and management priorities in this area. In Louisiana the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation‘s watershed-wide management plan focuses on restoring critical habitats that can offer increased resilience to ecosystems and human communities that depend on these coastal areas for the natural resources and storm protection benefits they provide.
To achieve enhanced resilience in the built environment, land trusts and conservation partners are working to ensure healthy and intact natural areas. When these areas coexist with the built environment, they are often known as “green infrastructure.” These areas can protect communities and the environments they depend on from climate impacts such as storm surge and flooding – benefits which are often referred to as “ecosystem services.”
How resilience is achieved varies, but in general, incorporating principles of “Smart Growth” and Strategic Conservation Planning into land management planning can support resilience objectives. To sustain and amplify storm and sea level rise protection benefits in coastal areas, land managers are working to identify and protect healthy natural ecosystems, as well as restore and enhance impacted systems to increase their resilience to change. Increasingly, green infrastructure protection, restoration, and enhancement strategies are being emphasized as land management tools to support resiliency in the built environment by leveraging natural ecosystem services.
Communities are also working to incorporate conservation of natural areas and other green infrastructure-related strategies into management and adaptation plans. For example, the Trust for Public Land has partnered with cities across the country to identify and deploy restoration projects that “connect,” “cool,” “absorb,” and “protect” surrounding environments – goals that provide numerous benefits to people and ecosystems.
In practice, resilience planning can reduce vulnerabilities in order to allow ecological systems and the communities that depend on and live in these systems to persist despite change and impacts such as increased sea level rise, more extensive flooding, and storms.
Networks (also called regional flow or regional connectivity)
The term networks refers to connectivity that facilitates movement across a landscape. Land trusts have been helping to build regional connectivity for more than a decade and have been very successful at connecting cores or blocks of forest through patient work, landowner by landowner.
To facilitate the movements that allow diverse plants and wildlife to survive, individual land parcels need to be seen as puzzle pieces in a larger, integrated, and readily accessible landscape. Land trusts are uniquely positioned to act as connectors that can piece together these links, often making even the most local conservation protections regionally significant.
Especially in the land trust community, ecological resilience often describes the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to a disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly without shifting to an alternative state or losing function or services. Resilience is important everywhere because all communities and ecosystems face hazards such as drought and flooding – risks which are exacerbated by our changing climate. Resilience can be seen as a factor influencing adaptive capacity, which in turn is an element of the vulnerability of a system. More resilient systems are able to absorb larger shocks without changing in fundamental ways, while less resilient systems are less capable of adapting to change and more vulnerable to harmful impacts. Vulnerability is defined by determining the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity of a system. By planning to preserve and enhance resilience, land trusts can work to increase the adaptive capacities of the lands they manage.
Full range of biological diversity (also called stratification or representation)
Scientific research has shown that species diversity is directly related to the diversity of habitats, which in turn is driven by the diversity of geology at different elevations. So if we protect the full range of geologies (such as limestone, granite and shale) at all elevations (high, medium and low), we can be pretty sure to capture the full range of habitat types that support the full range of biological diversity. This emphasis on the broad qualities of a landscape itself, rather than on the needs of individual species, is generally called a ‘course filter’ approach to conservation of biological diversity.
Of course, it is also important to recognize that some unique species might need more attention or a strategy tailored to protecting them. Threatened species such as salmon and the piping plover or species that need large ranges to migrate and reproduce such as black bear have already been the focus of successful conservation campaigns across the nation. Species-by-species approach to conservation is often referred to as a ‘fine filter’ approach.
These considerations –networks, resilience, and the full range of biodiversity -- point to a critical role for land trusts in protecting landscapes most likely to be climate resilient.
Land trusts are already conservation leaders! Read case studies of land trusts building resilience to learn more from other conservation leaders here.
Land trusts are working in a variety of ways to build resilience. Learn more.