Adaptive capacity

A system with high adaptive capacity exerts complex adaptive behavior in a changing environment.

Adaptive capacity is the capacity of a system to adapt if the environment where the system exists is changing. It is applied to e.g., ecological systems and human social systems.

As applied to ecological systems, the adaptive capacity is determined by:

As applied to human social systems, the adaptive capacity is determined by:

Adaptive capacity is associated with r and K selection strategies in ecology and with a movement from explosive positive feedback to sustainable negative feedback loops in social systems and technologies.

The Resilience Alliance, as illustrated by the work of C. S. Holling and L. H. Gunderson,[1] shows how the logistic curve of the r phase positive feedback, becoming replaced by the K negative feedback strategy is an important part of adaptive capacity. The r strategy is associated with situations of low complexity, high resilience, and growing potential. K strategies are associated with situations of high complexity, high potential and high resilience, but if the perturbations exceed certain limits, adaptive capacity may be exceeded and the system collapses into another so-called Omega state, of low potential, low complexity and low resilience.

Benefits of adaptive capacity

Adaptive capacity confers resilience to perturbation, giving ecological and human social systems the ability to reconfigure themselves with minimum loss of function.

Enhancing natural capacity

Adaptive capacity can be enhanced by:

See also


  1. Gunderson, L.H. and C.S. Holling, editors. Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, Washington.
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