Panarchy is a term to describe cross-scale interactions in ecological systems. Other concepts such as hierarchy theory, bottom-up or top-down control are part of the systems ecology lexicon. Panarchy was proposed as a way of synthesizing these concepts. The derivation of the word hierarchy is from terms that suggest 'sacred rules'. As such, hierarchy suggests rules that are inviolate and top down. Much ecological research suggests the widespread presence of these relationships, where the broad and slow constrain and control the small and the fast. In contrast the derivation of panarchy was from Pan, the Greek god of nature. Panarchy in this sense is thus proposed as 'nature's rules'. It blends system dynamics at a particular scale domain that suggests that at least four phases of changes (growth, conservation, release, and reorganization) are observed in many systems. During the growth and conservation phases, internal controls dominate system dynamics. The release and reorganization phases are when cross-scale connections emerge, and the system becomes linked to dynamics and processes occurring at other scales. Panarchy also suggests that three types of changes occur in ecological systems. Incremental change occurs during growth to conservation phases of a system at a single scale. Adaptive change occurs as result of four-phase dynamics at a single scale, when the system can change structure and processes as a function of ecological resilience. Transformational change occurs when multiple levels of panarchy all undergo state changes.

See also: Adaptive Cycle; Adaptive Management and Integrative assessments; Hierarchy Theory in Ecology; Self-Organization; Succession.

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