Resilience: Easy to use but hard to define

  • Myers-Smith I
  • Trefry S
  • Swarbrick V
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First conceptualized in the 1970s, resilience has become a popular term in the ecological literature, used in the title, abstract, or keywords of approximately 1% of papers identified by ISI Web of Science in the field of environmental sciences and ecology in 2011. However, many papers make only passing reference to the term and do not explain what resilience means in the context of their study system, despite there being a num- ber of possible definitions. In an attempt to determine how resilience is being used in ecological studies, we surveyed 234 papers published between 2004 and 2011 that were identified under the topic “resilience” by ISI Web of Science. Of these, 38% used the word resilience fewer than three times (often in the abstract or keyword list), 66% did not define the term, and 71% did not provide a citation to the resilience literature. Studies that defined resilience most often discussed it as pertaining to an entire ecosystem under continuous rather than discrete disturbance. Given the complex nature of this concept, we believe that care should be taken to properly describe what is meant by the term resilience in ecological studies.




Myers-Smith, I. H., Trefry, S. A., & Swarbrick, V. J. (2012). Resilience: Easy to use but hard to define. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution, 5(1).

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