Multiscale system dynamics of humans and nature in The Bahamas: perturbation, knowledge, panarchy and resilience


The analysis of the dynamic interactions between social systems, integrated by governance and communication, and biophysical systems, connected by material and energy flows, remains a challenge. In this paper, we draw on the heuristic models of the “adaptive renewal cycle” and “panarchy” [Gunderson and Holling (eds) Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Island Press, Washington, 2002], which are embedded in the theory of complex adaptive systems. Taking island development research in The Bahamas as a case study, we investigate environmental stressors, knowledge and social response in the context of three distinct social–ecological subsystems: (1) the interaction between tropical storms/hurricanes and the social system of disaster preparedness/management; (2) coastal ecosystem degradation coupled with land development; and (3) the fishery, in which we also consider the impact of a recent biological invasion, the Indo-Pacific red lionfish. The findings demonstrate the complexity of panarchical relations and the crucial role of diverse and uncertain knowledge systems and underlying mental models of risk and environment for resilience and sustainability. These are acquired at different scales and form key variables of change. This also applies to processes of communication. Bringing together the various constantly evolving multi-level knowledge systems for effective communication and decision-making remains a major challenge.
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