Resilience is an ecosystem’s ability to resist and/or recover from storms, earthquakes or other disturbance events that periodically disrupt normal ecosystem functioning.

Sometimes, this disturbance is desirable as it can promote biodiversity by creating a patchwork of habitats at different stages of recovery within an ecosystem. However, too much disturbance decreases biodiversity as species sensitive to disturbance are lost from the ecosystem.

Understanding ecosystem resilience is becoming increasingly important as climate change makes some disturbance events occur more frequently and/or in greater magnitude. Additionally, the unsustainable use of resources makes it harder for ecosystems to resist disturbance.

PISCO approaches

PISCO’s long-term monitoring of ecological and oceanographic processes along the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem combined with experimental lab and field studies make us uniquely qualified to study the resilience of this system.

Approaches include:

  • Long-term, large-scale monitoring of ecosystems along the west coast of the US is key to identifying how species and ecosystems respond to disturbance.  Ecosystem monitoring indicates the extent to which ecosystems change in the face of disturbance and how soon they return to the state they existed in prior to the disturbance event (i.e. their resiliency).
  • Intensive monitoring at key locations, such as the Marine Life Observatory at Hopkins Marine Station provides detailed information on potentially important finer-scale processes affecting resilience. See “Where we work” for more sites.
  • Developing models to forecast the potential effects of climate change and other factors that impact ecosystem resilience.
  • Genomic and physiological experiments assess the ability of species to tolerate or adapt to various environmental factors such as ocean acidification, hypoxia, storms, thermal stress on common marine organisms and other manifestations of climate change on different organisms. See the Species Performance section for more.
  • Monitoring gene flow along the CCLME to determine the spatial scale at which disturbed communities are replenished and reorganized by undisturbed ecosystems.
  • Using genetic tools, natural chemical signatures of larvae, and models of ocean circulation to identify geographic patterns of connectivity among populations and ecosystems.


The combination of common events, such as extreme low tides during daytime hours on unusually warm days, can kill populations of intertidal organisms. PISCO scientists have combined information gained from long-term environmental monitoring with physiological studies of intertidal organisms to create a model that predicts the effect of changing environmental conditions such as an increase in tidal fluctuations and rise in air temperature caused by climate change.

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