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Exploring temporality in socio-ecological resilience through experiences of the 2015/16 El Niño across the tropics


Stephen Whitfield

Emilie Beauchamp

Professor of Earth Observation

David Burslem

Anja Byg

Francis Colledge

Mark Cutler

Mengitsu Didena

Andrew Dougill

Professor of Geographical Information

Jasmin A Godbold

Mirjam Hazenbosch

Mark Hirons

Ifejika Chinwe Speranza

Eleanor Jew

Carmen Lacambra

David Mkwambisi

Awdenegest Moges

Alexandra Morel

Rebecca Morris

Paula Novo

Mario Enrique

Harrieth Smith

Martin Solan

Thomas Spencer

Ann Thornton

Julia Touza

Piran C.L. White


In a context of both long-term climatic changes and short-term climatic shocks, temporal dynamics profoundly influence ecosystems and societies. In low income contexts in the Tropics, where both exposure and vulnerability to climatic fluctuations is high, the frequency, duration, and trends in these fluctuations are important determinants of socio-ecological resilience. In this paper, the dynamics of six diverse socio-ecological systems (SES) across the Tropics – ranging from agricultural and horticultural systems in Africa and Oceania to managed forests in South East Asia and coastal systems in South America – are examined in relation to the 2015-16 El Niño, and the longer context of climatic variability in which this short-term 'event' occurred. In each case, details of the socio-ecological characteristics of the systems and the climate phenomena experienced during the El Niño 48 event are described and reflections on the observed impacts of, and responses to it are presented. Drawing on these cases, we argue that SES resilience (or lack of) is, in part, a product of both long-term historical trends, as well as short terms shocks within this history. Political and economic lock-ins and dependencies, and the memory and social learning that originates from past experience, all contribute to contemporary system resilience. We propose that the experiences of climate shocks can provide a window of insight into future ecosystem responses and, when combined with historical perspectives and learning from multiple contexts and cases, can be an important foundation for efforts to build appropriate long-term resilience strategies to mediate changing and uncertain climates.


Whitfield, S., Beauchamp, E., Boyd, D. S., Burslem, D., Byg, A., Colledge, F., …White, P. C. (2019). Exploring temporality in socio-ecological resilience through experiences of the 2015/16 El Niño across the tropics. Global Environmental Change, 55, 1-14.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 13, 2019
Online Publication Date Jan 23, 2019
Publication Date Mar 15, 2019
Deposit Date Jan 16, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 16, 2019
Journal Biological Sciences Life Sciences Building
Print ISSN 0959-3780
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 55
Pages 1-14
Keywords Climate change, variability, temporal dynamics, resistance, perturbations, societies; ecosystems
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: Exploring temporality in socio-ecological resilience through experiences of the 2015–16 El Niño across the Tropics; Journal Title: Global Environmental Change; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version:; Content Type: article; Copyright: © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.


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