This seminal article represents some of the early conceptual understandings for both a quantitative and a qualitative approach to ecological systems understanding. This view challenges the notion of constancy and introduces persistence and flexibility as a function of complex systems characterised by uncertainty. Central to this concept is equilibrium and non-equilibrium states. A focus on equilibrium states tends to create a static view of systems, providing few insights into the inherent transient nature of ecological systems through various fluctuations and non-stable processes. Maintaining a static, equilibrium view in human-nature interactions can increase the risk of extinction of system elements. A resilience approach avoids prediction, instead generating a qualitative capacity for absorbing and accommodating unexpected future events through expanded options.
A stability view of the world tends to be underpinned by a desire for prediction, control, and efficiency (e.g. attempts at maximum sustained yields). This may have some relevance for systems that are mechanistic and linear, but often disastrous for systems that operate continuously outside of equilibrium states. From a resilience perspective options, issues of scale and heterogeneity are critical considerations. This article represents the birth of the resilience movement, and contains some of Holling’s core concepts in relation to adaptive management and learning within human-nature interactions.