The term 'resilience' was first introduced by the Canadian ecologist C. S. Holling in order to emphasize two contrasting views of stability for ecological systems, namely between efficiency and persistence or between constancy and change. The first definition of resilience is the rate at which a system returns to a single state after a perturbation. The definition assumes certain local stability properties of the state. Ecological systems being dynamic and often transient can shift from one stability domain to another, and this transition property characterizes the term resilience. In that manner a second definition introduces resilience as the amount of change or disturbance required for a major shift from one stability domain to another. The first definition is characterized by control, predictability, and efficiency, in view of optimality in ecosystem functioning. The second definition focuses more on prediction, adaptability, and variability -attributes pertaining more to the evolutionary perspective. These contrasting views of ecological resilience can have very different results in understanding and managing ecological complexity. The issue of sustainability is more relevant to the first definition of ecological resilience, because of the interacting nature between man and the environment from the viewpoint of human development in a globally changing environment. On the other hand, focus on engineering resilience moves the argument of sustainability to controlling, offering predictable results as long as we experience the stability domain. The notion of resilience differs significantly from that of resistance in ecological theory. The latter is defined as the ability of the system to remain the same while external conditions change, whereas the former is the ability of the system to recover after it has changed. In that sense fully functioning ecosystems are both resistant to change and resilient or able to self-recover from external disturbances, thereby maintaining stability.

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