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Coerced regimes: management challenges in the Anthropocene

David G. Angeler, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Dept. of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment; School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Brian C. Chaffin, W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana
Shana M. Sundstrom, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Ahjond Garmestani, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law - Utrecht University School of Law
Kevin L. Pope, U.S. Geological Survey - Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
Daniel R. Uden, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Dirac Twidwell, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Center for Resilience in Agricultural Working Landscapes, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Craig R. Allen, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Center for Resilience in Agricultural Working Landscapes, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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Management frequently creates system conditions that poorly mimic the conditions of a desirable self-organizing regime. Such management is ubiquitous across complex systems of people and nature and will likely intensify as these systems face rapid change. However, it is highly uncertain whether the costs (unintended consequences, including negative side effects) of management but also social dynamics can eventually outweigh benefits in the long term. We introduce the term “coerced regime” to conceptualize this management form and tie it into resilience theory. The concept encompasses proactive and reactive management to maintain desirable and mitigate undesirable regime conditions, respectively. A coerced regime can be quantified through a measure of the amount of management required to artificially maintain its desirable conditions. Coerced regimes comprise “ghosts” of self-sustaining desirable system regimes but ultimately become “dead regimes walking” when these regimes collapse as soon as management is discontinued. We demonstrate the broad application of coerced regimes using distinct complex systems of humans and nature (human subjects, aquatic and terrestrial environments, agriculture, and global climate). We discuss commonalities and differences between these examples to identify trade-offs between benefits and harms of management. The concept of coerced regimes can spur thinking and inform management about the duality of what we know and can envision versus what we do not know and therefore cannot envision: a pervasive sustainability conundrum as planet Earth swiftly moves toward a future without historical analogue.

Key words

alternative regimes; coercion; interdisciplinary; management; mitigation; resilience; restoration

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087