Definitions for Resilience

Building resilience means establishing a network of habitats that will support a full range of biological diversity in order to “bounce back” or “rebound” under changing conditions.


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.


Resilience is a widely used term and has several meanings. In the context of climate change,  it refers to ecological resilience, or the ability of a natural system to rebound after a disturbance. Resilience refers to the ability of a system (such as an ecosystem) to take advantage of resources or cope with consequences. Based on a few inherent characteristics, which we describe below, any ecosystem has more or less capacity to return to a functioning state. 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.

The three most desirable traits for climate resilience are:

  • permeability (also called local connectivity) – which allows species to both access local resources (such as nutrients and landforms!) and to sustain expected ecological processes such as flooding and natural disturbances without catastrophic damage;
  • productivity (also called nutrient distribution) – where the nutrients available at a site can support species abilities to survive and reproduce; and
  • landform complexity (also called landform diversity) – which is reflected in the creation of microclimates that can provide suitable localized conditions for species to persist.

Full range of biological diversity

Also called stratification or representation, biodiversity simply refers to the amount of variety of species or habitat in an ecosystem. 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 Conservation Leaders

Land trusts already are taking actions to build resilience. Climate resilient conservation actions can include:

• Using existing maps and resources to identify and protect places that are inherently climate resilient, so that they may continue to support biological diversity even under climate change;
• identifying and protecting places that that will be minimally impacted by climate AND are suitable for each kind of ecosystem, to provide “safe haven” reserves for every kind of system;
• identifying zones of intense disturbance for specific climate impacts, such as sea-level rise or flooding, and evaluate zones of relative security for systems and populations that cannot shift, and either avoiding acquisition of these lands or working with communities to expand buffers to reduce human vulnerabilities and allow for greater ecological migration in these areas; and
• mapping connectivity in a way that allows systems and populations—especially vulnerable ones—to shift their range.

Read case studies of land trusts building resilience to learn more from other conservation leaders here.