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A system with high adaptive capacity exerts complex adaptive behavior in a changing environment.

Adaptive capacity relates to the capacity of systems, institutions, humans and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to respond to consequences.[1]

In the context of ecological systems, adaptive capacity is determined by:

In the context of couple socio-ecological social systems, adaptive capacity is commonly associated with following characteristics:


Benefits of adaptive capacityEdit

Adaptive capacity confers resilience to perturbation, giving ecological and human social systems the ability to reconfigure themselves with minimum loss of function.

Characterising and supporting adaptive capacityEdit

Adaptive capacity can be enhanced in a number of different ways. A report by the Overseas Development Institute introduces the local adaptive capacity framework (LAC), featuring five core characteristics of adaptive capacity[2]. These include:

  • Asset base: the availability of a diverse range of key livelihood assets that allow households or communities to respond to evolving circumstances
  • Institutions and entitlements: the existence of an appropriate and evolving institutional environment that allows for access and entitlement to key assets and capitals
  • Knowledge and information: the ability households and communities have to generate, receive, assess and disseminate knowledge and information in support of appropriate adaptation options
  • Innovation: the system creates an enabling environment to foster innovation, experimentation and the ability to explore niche solutions in order to take advantage of new opportunities
  • Flexible forward-looking decision-making and governance: the system is able to anticipate, incorporate and respond to changes with regards to its governance structures and future planning

Many development interventions - such as social protection programmes and efforts to promote social safety nets - can play important roles in promoting aspects of adaptive capacity.

Relationship between adaptive capacity, states and strategiesEdit

Adaptive capacity is associated with r and K selection strategies in ecology and with a movement from explosive positive feedback to sustainable negative feedback loops in social systems and technologies.

The Resilience Alliance, as illustrated by the work of C. S. Holling and L. H. Gunderson,[3] shows how the logistic curve of the r phase positive feedback, becoming replaced by the K negative feedback strategy is an important part of adaptive capacity. The r strategy is associated with situations of low complexity, high resilience, and growing potential. K strategies are associated with situations of high complexity, high potential and high resilience, but if the perturbations exceed certain limits, adaptive capacity may be exceeded and the system collapses into another so-called Omega state, of low potential, low complexity and low resilience.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ IPCC (2014). "Glossary" (PDF). Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  2. ^ Jones, Lindsey; Ludi, Eva; Jeans, Helen; Barihaihi, Margaret (2019-01-02). "Revisiting the Local Adaptive Capacity framework: learning from the implementation of a research and programming framework in Africa" (PDF). Climate and Development. 11 (1): 3–13. doi:10.1080/17565529.2017.1374237. ISSN 1756-5529.
  3. ^ Gunderson, L.H. and C.S. Holling, editors. Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, Washington.