The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
bridges to ecosystem and institutional renewal (Gunderson et al., 1995), so here I will deal only with highlights.
Puzzles can sometimes be solved by searching for counterexamples. Oddly, nature itself provides such counterexamples of tightly regulated yet sustainable systems in the many examples of physiological homeostasis. Consider temperature regulation of endotherms (warm-blooded animals). The internal body temperature of endotherms is not only tightly regulated within a narrow band, but among present-day birds and mammals, the average temperature is perilously close to lethal. Moreover, the cost of achieving that regulation requires ten times the energy for metabolism that is required by ectotherms (cold-blooded animals). That would seem to be a recipe for not only disaster but a very inefficient one at that. And yet evolution somehow led to the extraordinary success of the animals having such an adaptation—the birds and mammals.
To test the generality of the variability-loss/resilience-loss hypothesis, I have been collecting data from the physiological literature on the viable temperature range within the bodies of organisms exposed to different classes of variability. I have organized the data into three groups ranging from terrestrial ectotherms, which are exposed to the greatest variability of temperature from unbuffered ambient conditions, to aquatic ectotherms, which are exposed to an intermediate level of variability because of the moderating attributes of water, to endotherms, which regulate temperature within a narrow band. The viable range of internal body temperature decreases from about 40 degrees centigrade for the most variable group to about 30 degrees for the intermediate, to 20 degrees for the tightly regulated endotherms. Therefore resilience, in this case the range of internal temperatures that separates life from death, clearly does contract as variability in internal temperature is reduced, just as in the resource management cases. I conclude, therefore, that reduction of variability of living systems, from organisms to ecosystems, inevitably leads to loss of resilience in that part of the system being regulated.
But that seems to leave an even starker paradox for management; seemingly successful control inevitably leads to collapse. But, in fact, endothermy does persist and flourish. It therefore serves as a revealing metaphor for sustainable development. This metaphor contains two features that were not evident in my earlier descriptions of examples of resource management.
First, the kind of regulation is different. Five different mechanisms, from evaporative cooling to metabolic heat generation, control the temperature of endotherms. Each mechanism is not notably efficient by itself. Each operates over a somewhat different but overlapping range of conditions and with different efficiencies of response. It is this overlapping "soft" redundancy that seems to characterize biological regulation of all kinds. It is not notably efficient or elegant in the engineering sense. But it is robust and continually sensitive to changes in internal body temperature. That is quite unlike the examples of rigid