Unifying the concepts of stability and resilience in ecology

Koenraad Van Meerbeek*, Tommaso Jucker, Jens Christian Svenning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Characterizing how ecosystems are responding to rapid environmental change has become a major focus of ecological research. The empirical study of ecological stability, which aims to quantify these ecosystem responses, is therefore more relevant than ever. Based on a historical review and bibliometric mapping of the field of ecological stability, we show that the two main schools relating to the study of stability—one focusing on systems close to their equilibrium and the other on non-equilibrium behaviour—have developed in parallel leading to divergence in both concepts and definitions. We synthesize and expand previous frameworks and capitalize on the latest developments in the field to build towards an integrated framework by elaborating the overarching concept of ecological stability and its properties. Finally, the broad applicability of our work is demonstrated in two empirical cases. Synthesis. With rapidly changing environmental conditions, the stability of ecosystems has become a major focus of ecological research. Still, the concept of stability remains a major source of confusion and disagreement among ecologists. The conceptual framework presented here provides a basis to integrate currently diverging views on the study of ecological stability.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Ecology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Ellen Desie and Rita Sousa‐Silva for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript and for the Belgian data on SPEI. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on the original manuscript. J.‐C.S. considers this work a contribution to his VILLUM Investigator project ‘Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World' funded by VILLUM FONDEN (grant 16549). The FunDivEUROPE project was funded through the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007‐2013; grant no. 265171). T.J. was supported by a UK NERC Independent Research Fellowship (grant number: NE/S01537X/1).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 British Ecological Society

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • alternative stable states
  • equilibrium
  • latitude
  • perturbations
  • recovery
  • regime shift
  • resistance
  • tolerance


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