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Leslie, Paul W. & McCabe, J. Terrence (2013). Response Diversity and Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems. Current Anthropology, 54(2), 114-143. PMCID: PMC4028135


Recent work in ecology suggests that the diversity of responses to environmental change among species contributing to the same ecosystem function can strongly influence ecosystem resilience. To render this important realization more useful for understanding coupled human-natural systems, we broaden the concept of response diversity to include heterogeneity in human decisions and action. Simply put, not all actors respond the same way to challenges, opportunities, and risks. The range, prevalence, and spatial and temporal distributions of different responses may be crucial to the resilience or the transformation of a social-ecological system and thus have a bearing on human vulnerability and well-being in the face of environmental, socioeconomic, and political change. Response diversity can be seen at multiple scales (e.g., household, village, region), and response diversity at one scale may act synergistically with or contrary to the effects of diversity at another scale. Although considerable research on the sources of response diversity has been done, our argument is that the consequences of response diversity warrant closer attention. We illustrate this argument with examples drawn from our studies of two East African pastoral populations and discuss the relationship of response diversity to characteristics of social-ecological systems that can promote or diminish resilience.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Current Anthropology


Leslie, Paul W.
McCabe, J. Terrence