Photo: R. Kautsky/Azote

The Photo: R. Kautsky/Azote


This theme analyses the social, institutional, economic and ecological foundations of multilevel governance that are successful in building social-ecological resilience

Many scholars emphasize the need for new flexible, inclusive and multi-level forms of governance that can deal with the complexity of social-ecological systems (SES), and their associated services.
Adaptive governance approaches must be able to not only coordinate relevant actors at multiple scales, but also achieve meaningful collaborations and collective action before essential ecosystem services are depleted or critical thresholds are transcended.

Furthermore, adaptive governance approaches require a system of continuous learning for building knowledge and effective management practices to interpret and respond to ecological feedbacks. Learning is therefore essential for stakeholders to develop their ability to deal effectively with new situations and to prepare for change and surprise.
We integrate insights from a range of disciplines ranging from systems ecology, geography, sociology, social network analysis, complexity theory, and organizational studies, to political science.
Our members focus on a multitude of empirical cases, ranging from coral reef ecosystems in Australia, urban ecosystems in Stockholm, biosphere reserves in South Africa, forest ecosystems in India and Madagascar, to global technical innovations for infectious disease governance and local climate change adaptation processes in Sweden.

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Adaptive governance, ecosystem management, and natural capital

Schultz, L., C. Folke, H. Österblom, P. Olsson

2015 - Journal / article

To gain insights into the effects of adaptive governance on natural capital, we compare three well-studied initiatives; a landscape in Southern Sweden, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and fisheries in the Southern Ocean. We assess changes in natural capital and ecosystem services related to these social-ecological governance approaches to ecosystem management and investigate their capacity to respond to change and new challenges. The adaptive governance initiatives are compared with other efforts aimed at conservation and sustainable use of natural capital: Natura 2000 in Europe, lobster fisheries in the Gulf of Maine, North America, and fisheries in Europe. In contrast to these efforts, we found that the adaptive governance cases developed capacity to perform ecosystem management, manage multiple ecosystem services, and monitor, communicate, and respond to ecosystem-wide changes at landscape and seascape levels with visible effects on natural capital. They enabled actors to collaborate across diverse interests, sectors, and institutional arrangements and detect opportunities and problems as they developed while nurturing adaptive capacity to deal with them. They all spanned local to international levels of decision making, thus representing multilevel governance systems for managing natural capital. As with any governance system, internal changes and external drivers of global impacts and demands will continue to challenge the long-term success of such initiatives.

Collective action and the risk of ecosystem regime shifts: Insights from a laboratory experiment

Schill, C., T. Lindahl, A.-S. Crépin

2015 - Journal / article

Ecosystems can undergo regime shifts that potentially lead to a substantial decrease in the availability of provisioning ecosystem services. Recent research suggests that the frequency and intensity of regime shifts increase with growing anthropogenic pressure, so understanding the underlying social-ecological dynamics is crucial, particularly in contexts where livelihoods depend heavily on local ecosystem services. In such settings, ecosystem services are often derived from common-pool resources. The limited capacity to predict regime shifts is a major challenge for common-pool resource management, as well as for systematic empirical analysis of individual and group behavior, because of the need for extensive preshift and postshift data. Unsurprisingly, current knowledge is mostly based on theoretical models. We examine behavioral group responses to a latent endogenously driven regime shift in a laboratory experiment. If the group exploited the common-pool resource beyond a certain threshold level, its renewal rate dropped drastically. To determine how the risk of such a latent shift affects resource management and collective action, we compared four experimental treatments in which groups were faced with a latent shift with different probability levels (0.1, 0.5, 0.9, 1.0). Our results suggest that different probability levels do not make people more or less likely to exploit the resource beyond its critical potential threshold. However, when the likelihood of the latent shift is certain or high, people appear more prone to agree initially on a common exploitation strategy, which in turn is a predictor for averting the latent shift. Moreover, risk appears to have a positive effect on collective action, but the magnitude of this effect is influenced by how risk and probabilities are communicated and perceived.

Creating a safe operating space for iconic ecosystems

Scheffer, M., S. Barrett, S.R. Carpenter, C. Folke, A.J. Green, M. Holmgren, T.P. Hughes, S. Kosten, I.A. van de Leemput, D.C. Nepstad, E.H. van Nes, E.T.H.M. Peeters, B. Walker

2015 - Journal / article

Although some ecosystem responses to climate change are gradual, many ecosystems react in highly non-linear ways. They show little response until a threshold or tipping point isreached where even a small perturbation may trigger collapse into a state from which recovery is difficult. Increasing evidence shows that the critical climate level for such collapse may be altered by conditions that can be managed locally. These synergies between local stressors and climate change provide potential opportunities for pro-active management. Although their clarity and scale make such local approaches more conducive to action than global greenhouse gas management, crises in iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites illustrate that such stewardship is at risk of failing. The term “safe operating space” frames the problem of managing our planet in terms of staying within acceptable levels or “boundaries” for global stressors. Uncertainty is accounted for by keeping on the safe side of such boundaries. The safe levels of different stressors at global scales are mostly considered independently. However, in ecosystems a safe level for one stressor is often strongly dependent of the level of other stressors. This implies that if such synergies are understood, local stressors may be effectively managed to enhance tolerance to global climate change.



Ekoklim is an inter-disciplinary research programme at Stockholm University. It investigates how climate change impacts biodiversity and ecosystem services and how these can be managed in the Mälardalen region, Sweden. Read more here

Ecosystem-based and integrated coastal zone management - challenges and possibilities

This project aims to identify determinants of successful co-management processes embracing the guiding principles of ecosystem-based management Read more here

Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B
Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201