The adaptive cycle’s heuristic conceptualizes the changes of complex systems on four consecutive phases (Holling 2001): (1) growth, (2) conservation, (3) collapse or creative destruction (Ω), and (4) reorganization (α). The first two are slow, predictable, and analog to ecological succession. The last two are fast, unpredictable, and critical to determining the system’s destiny.
Three dimensions define the phases: (1) potential, or the range of accumulated resources, (2) connectedness, or the degree of connection between variables and internal controlling processes, and (3) resilience, which depends on the previous two dimensions (Holling 1986, 1987, 2001, Holling and Gunderson 2002). A resilient system should move through all four phases, or skips one (Walker et al. 2006), without being caught in one phase by obstacles or traps (Fath et al. 2015), especially in the collapse phase (Ω), where rules, value systems, and interactions between peoples and ecosystems become dysfunctional (Nayak et al. 2014).
Panarchy (Gunderson and Holling 2002) refers to the hierarchical structure of the interconnections of complex systems, explaining their dynamic as a nested set of adaptive cycles (from small and fast to large and slow scales), which determines the system’s sustainability (Holling 2001). Recognizing the suitability of the panarchy theory as a heuristic of complex systems organization, many authors have investigated the linkages between adaptive cycles in social systems and ecosystems, focusing on cycles of destruction and renewal (Carreiro and Zipperer 2011, Allen et al. 2014). According to the panarchy theory, complex adaptive systems have a cross-scale structure resulting from the positive and self-reinforced interactions between several scales (Holling and Gunderson 2002, Angeler et al. 2011). Although there may be many connections between scales, Holling (2001:397 and 398) emphasizes two of them: “revolt” (from small and fast cycles to large and slow) that occurs when the former is in a creative destruction phase and the latter in a conservation phase, and “remember” (from large and slow cycles to small and fast), which may impact the reorganization of the latter by the conservation dynamics of the former (Holling 2001, Holling and Gunderson 2002, Baral et al. 2010, Williams et al. 2019, Joseph and McGregor 2020). Scales, for this purpose, can be temporal, spatial, jurisdictional, and institutional, among others. Abel et al. (2006) propose that an excess subsidy from higher panarchy scales may increase the lower scales’ dependency, reducing their self-organizing capabilities. Therefore, exploring cross-scale interactions, such as obstacles or traps (Haider et al. 2018, Nahuelhual et al. 2019), is essential to understand the system’s dynamics.
Ecosystem services (ES) are the benefits that people get from ecosystems: (1) provisioning, (2) regulation and maintenance, and (3) cultural (Haines-Young and Potschin 2018). They result from the functionality of the ecosystem, and changes in its structure and functions will affect them (Haines-Young and Potschin 2010). Although the ES conceptual framework can be used on any scale, it is commonly applied within regions where the local social subsystem interacts with the ecological subsystem (Binder et al. 2013). However, current globalization makes the ecological dynamics and the supply of ES vulnerable to large scale processes (Laterra et al. 2016).
Walker et al. (2002) propose a relationship between ES allocation and the system’s state. Dick et al. (2011), analyzing a diversity of conceptual frameworks through a literature review, show that published articles relate the adaptive cycle only to the natural capital. Mhango and Dick (2011), analyzing developing countries, propose that the ES concept and the panarchy framework could be useful policy tools. Other authors have shown that alternative configurations during a reorganization phase (α), or regime shifts, produce changes in the provided services (Bohensky 2008, Biggs et al. 2012, Chaffin et al. 2016). So, differences in ES provisions can also characterize the phases of the adaptive cycle (Laterra et al. 2016). Burkhard et al. (2011) and Delgado et al. (2019a) propose relationships between the use of ES and the phases of the adaptive cycle that can guide empirical case studies on the coherence between both conceptual frameworks (Table 1).
Berkes and Folke (1998) define a social-ecological system (SES) as a bio-geo-physical unit, its social actors, and associated institutions. The dependency relationships between ES and the subsistence and quality of life of rural and ancestral communities in SESs are distinct for developing countries (Delgado and Marin 2019). For example, in the face of pollution or the local disappearance of species, people change their life strategies (Delgado et al. 2009). Thus, social-ecological resilience will depend on the social capitals, ecosystem structures, and processes, and the interaction between them analyzed through ES. Auad et al. (2018) propose that new ES will be easily incorporated during the reorganization phase (α), but they could have adverse effects if incorporated in other phases. Thus, merging the adaptive cycle and ES frameworks could improve the understanding of the SES’s dynamic changes (Table 1). Furthermore, when analyzed at several spatial and temporal scales, panarchy opens the opportunity to contribute to the understanding of the systems’ sustainability and to propose solutions for existing challenges to the system’s sustainable management or governance (Elliff and Kikuchi 2015, Laterra et al. 2016, Auad et al. 2018, Delgado et al. 2019b).
The Chiloé archipelago (Fig. 1) is a group of islands located in southern Chile (42°S - 44°S), Pacific coast of South America, with Chiloé Island as its main component, accommodating 170 thousand people (INE 2017). Its environment consists mainly of rural human settlements within temperate forests and prairies and an interior sea where most productive and food gathering activities occur. From a cultural perspective, the island is a mixture of global society’s components plus its traditional ethnicity (chilotes) originated from the syncretism between local Mapuche-Williche people and Spaniard colonizers that arrived during the 16th century. We analyze Chiloé Island as an SES where its historical, social, and ecological components changed during the 20th century.
Chilotes have based their historical subsistence and well-being on artisan fisheries, shore food gathering, and the use of other components from marine and terrestrial ecosystems (Mansilla Torres 2006), defining the island’s historical social-ecological components. However, since 1969 the aquaculture industry, driven by global markets and the Chilean state intervention, moved this isolated area into modernity. This process generated employment, infrastructure development, and changes in people’s expectations and aspirations. It also forced a hybridization and commodification of chilotes culture toward tourism, pushing the island closer to the benefits and risks of globalization (Barton and Román 2016), generating ecological changes (Capriroli 2019, Paredes 2019). We used the adaptive cycle to interpret the social-ecological changes of Chiloé Island for the period 1826–2016, driven by the question: Do changes in ES agree with the proposed theoretical relationships between both conceptual frameworks (Table 1)? We also studied the interactions between adaptive cycles at different scales to analyze their effects on Chiloé SES.
Pereira et al. (2018), discussing transformations for sustainability, state that there is “a dearth of literature ... in the diverse contexts of the Global South.” We argue that, among other reasons, it is challenging to publish on sustainability issues without knowledge of the historical changes of the structure and functions of SESs. We have written this article as a contribution to that knowledge.
We analyzed the literature for drivers associated with the different phases of the adaptive cycle (Table 2). We then searched for these drivers through the Web of Science (WoS) looking for articles (1975–2018) using the syntaxis TITLE (Chiloe) AND THEME (Chiloe). We also used the Scopus database (1960–2018) using the same syntaxis. WoS generated 248 articles, Scopus 598 articles. We selected articles related to ecological, social, economic, cultural, and anthropological studies, reducing to 54 articles for WoS and 97 for Scopus. Also, we analyzed local historical events in books, interviews, and thesis documents published by Chilean universities. Then, we used the information to identify the phases for Chiloé Island through a retrospective study of historical events, organizing them chronologically (1826–2016), and in three geographic scales (local, regional, and global). Finally, we defined the capitals for each phase (Appendix 1) to study the system’s connectivity and adaptive capacity (Abel et al. 2006).
We also used the scientific literature and historical documents to identify terrestrial and coastal-marine ES (provisioning, regulation-maintenance, and cultural) used in Chiloé Island (Table 3). We classified each analyzed ES in three numerical categories (i.e., qualitative evaluation): scarce (0), low (1), and high (3) for each phase of the adaptive cycle. For example, in the case of the ecosystem service “use of ancestral cultural information” (cultural services; Table 3); Álvarez et al. (2008) shows high union social capitals and traditional practices at the beginning of our study period (1826–1959), maintained until the middle of the sixties when they started decreasing (Armando Bahamondes, personal communication, Dalcahue, Chiloé). Thus, we defined the first two phases 1826–1959 and 1960–1967, with a high value (3) and the next period with a low value (1). The author (Álvarez 2011) also states that traditional practices ended in 1980; consequently, we assigned a zero value to the next three phases. We used the same approach for all services in Table 3, using the generated values to analyze temporal ES changes using linear regression analyses (SPSS, Version 26, 2019). For that purpose, we treated the time sequence of phases (Appendix 1) as the explanatory, categorical, variable starting with 1 for the first period (1826–1959) up to 6 for the last (2007–2016). The dependent variable was the average value of each type of ES, considering all analyzed services (Table 3).
We conducted face-to-face interviews with local social actors (N = 35) to analyze their perception of the current (2018) phase of Chiloé’s adaptive cycle (Appendix 2). Interviewees were academics (N = 5), mussel and salmon farmers (N = 11), tourism enterprises representatives (N = 10), culture keepers (N = 6), government employees and NGO members (N = 3). Before the interview, the interviewer (one of the three authors of this article) described each phase of the cycle (see text in Appendix 2), evaluating the method’s robustness by asking the interviewee to describe each phase. The investigator continued with the interview only when he/she was satisfied with the answers, otherwise redescribing the phases. We codified, for analytical purposes, interviewees’ identified phase with an integer: reorganization phase (α) = 1, growth or exploitation phase (r) = 2, conservation phase (K) = 3, and collapse or creative destruction phase (Ω) = 4. We then analyzed their responses and differences through a one-way ANOVA with a significance α level = 0.05 (SPSS, version 26, 2019). All interviewees signed informed consent.
A panarchy comprises several adaptive cycles. We analyzed cross-scales interactions affecting Chiloé Island SES using three cycles:
Using the gathered information, we identified the elements, processes, and changes of each scale and the processes from one scale potentially affecting other scales.
We identified six main society-nature events (drivers) affecting Chiloé Island SES during the last 190 years (1826–2016; Fig. 2). The first event was the signing of the Tantatuco Treaty in 1826 that incorporated Chiloé Island to Chile. During this growth period, the main component was potatoes production, which made Chiloé Island the largest producer in Chile. The 9.5 Mw Chilean 1960 earthquake, with Chiloé as one of its epicenters (second driver), generated a collapse phase (Ω), given the destruction it generated on local capitals (Appendix 1). In 1967 a reorganization phase (α) started with mussel farming in wooden rafts on Chiloé’s coastal zone and the subsequent diversification of economic activities (third driver). The fourth driver was the onset of Chile’s neoliberal economy in 1974, generating a growth phase (r) lasting 22 years. A conservation phase (K) began when Chile became the world’s first salmon exporter in 1996. The massive installation of the salmon industry in Chiloé inland sea generated a system’s rigidity trap because of increasing economic dependencies on two commodities (mussels and salmons). In 2007 the system entered into a collapse or creative destruction phase (Ω), triggered by the beginning of a salmon industry crisis related to an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia (ISA). The disease made salmon unmarketable, generating the closure of infected coastal farms and processing plants on land. The societal effect was a high local unemployment rate, especially between 2008 and 2010. Since then, the collapse phase has worsened because of numerous socioeconomic and social-ecological crises. Chiloé’s coastal zone has experienced several harmful algal blooms during this phase (2007, 2009, 2016, and 2019; León-Muñoz et al. 2018), generating the closure of mussel farms, preventing people from obtaining shore resources, and forcing the government to increase auditing of the aquaculture industry. These events and processes produced a whole island social protest in May 2016, called “chilote’s May” (Mayo chilote; Vargas 2016). The protest made evident the close relationship between the services of the coastal marine ecosystems and chilote’s well-being, generating a response from the government of subsidies and bonds to reduce temporarily people’s income problems.
The historical analysis of ecosystem services showed that only provisioning services agreed with the hypothetical phases’ relationships (Table 1) of the local (social-ecological) adaptive cycle of Chiloé Island (Fig. 3A). On average, provisioning services increased during the reorganization (α) and growth (r) phases, but they did not increase during the conservation phase (K) and decreased in both collapse phases (Ω). Changes to the other two types of services showed linear decreases in time, unrelated to the adaptive phases. Regression for regulation and maintenance services was significant at p = 0.1 while for cultural services, p = 0.02. Cultural services analysis showed that starting in the second growth phase (r2; Fig. 3C), cultural tourism replaced myths and cultural and ancestral traditions.
Interviews results showed that 51.4% of the interviewees perceive that Chiloé Island is currently in a collapse phase (Ω), and 42.9% defined it in a conservation phase (K). Still, 80% of the latter described it as a late-stage, that is, with the SES near its collapse. None of the interviewees perceived the system in a growth phase (r), and only 5.7% perceived it in a reorganization phase (α). We did not find significant differences in the perception among groups of interviewees (p = 0.74).
Interviewees defining the current phase as a late-stage conservation phase (K) mentioned arguments such as the following:
We developed a panarchy model for Chiloé Island based on interactions among the three cycles described above (Fig. 4). We propose that the local social-ecological cycle is currently in a collapse phase (Ω) with a decrease in ES. We did not define the chronology of the next cycle (regional-national scale for the Chilean institutional-jurisdictional coupling). Nevertheless, based on the literature review, documents, and the analysis conducted by Delgado et al. (2019c), it is currently in a late conservation phase (K) because of rigid political structures. These structures facilitated the introduction and industrialization of salmon farming in the Chiloé coastal zone in 1991 (Chilean Fisheries and Aquaculture Law Nº 18.892), followed by a clustering process with the salmon industry, generating a production chain between providers and the enterprises within the region. The industry then offered economic subsidies and loans to all those interested in participating in the production/export process, making other ways of life (agriculture, wood harvest) almost nonviable (Bustos and Román 2019). For the third and higher cycle (global scale of economic markets), we suggest that the adaptive cycle is crossing what Holling and Gunderson (2002:1057 [Kindle edition]) call a “front loop” stage. That is, “the slow, incremental phase of growth and accumulation” from a growth phase (r) to a conservation phase (K; e.g., UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2020).
The global cycle’s main event was the Chile-Japan agreement that introduced Pacific salmon to Chiloé in 1969 (Amtmann and Blanco 2001). This event reinforced the local reorganization phase (α), introducing aquaculture activities based on existing capital (cultural and natural) from the Chiloé Island SES that were disarticulated by the 1960 cataclysm. Barton et al. (2013) propose that salmon farming relates to global processes (e.g., investments, technology, and sales), but only weakly to the local environment, exploiting resources and human capital, leaving all local development responsibilities to public authorities. Also, in 1969 Chile did not have legislation, regulation, and planning for its development. We propose that this cross-scale process is a “remember” connection that enables the reorganization by the accumulated potential of the global scale cycle (Holling 2001). This cross-scale connection was established from the global to the local cycle, without connections with the regional-national cycle.
The Chilean fisheries/aquaculture law (Law Nº 18.892, September 1991) was then generated within the institutional-jurisdictional cycle, facilitating economic activities and foreign capitals’ entry, following the neoliberal logic in 1973. This economic model maintained the local adaptive cycle’s growth phase (r; Fig. 2). However, mussel and salmon farming clusters outcompeted local, traditional, economies recruiting labor and leaving the local economy under the umbrella of few enterprises, generating an economic dependency of chilotes. Under these conditions, some authors have described the Chilean state’s role as permissive (Cabello et al. 2018). Nevertheless, local traditions started getting lost in later years (2008–2010) when the government increased coastal regulations requiring fishing permits and assigning quotas even for traditional activities such as macroalgae and seafood harvest (Pavez 2015, Bustos and Román 2019).
The 2007 ISA virus crisis in Chiloé’s coastal zone was one of the events that showed the strong dependency of local, traditional chilotes, and the aquaculture industry on coastal ecosystems. The ISA virus is not endemic of the Chilean coast, so its presence in Chilean waters resulted from cross-scale interactions (Barrionuevo 2011). Less than a decade after the ISA virus crisis, people from Chiloé Island participated in massive protests, triggered by the dumping of 4600 tonnes of rotten salmon into the ocean, with the Chilean government’s consent. This event could, in theory, have produced a “revolt” cross-scale effect in the institutional-jurisdictional cycle, which could have generated a collapse phase (Ω). However, toward the end of the protests, the Chilean government declared Chiloé as a “zone of catastrophe,” offering a one-time economic bonus of US$150 to each affected family (Mascareño et al. 2018). Such a subsidy worked as a rigidity trap, maintaining the institutional-jurisdictional cycle in the conservative phase (K) and avoiding it from entering into a collapse phase (Ω). On 25 October 2020, Chileans will vote to decide if they want a new constitution, to decrease, among other things, the current centralism, which could disentangle the rigidity trap. Also, we propose another rigidity trap, inside what Steneck et al. (2011) defined as “gilded traps” (Fig. 4). They are social traps where collective actions, resulting from attractive economic opportunities, outweigh the concerns about social and environmental risks. In the case of Chiloé, the aquaculture industry would act as a gilded trap because its goal is to increase the economic value of natural resources, i.e., mussels and salmon, requiring a simplified ecosystem, free of predators.
We have described a social-ecological adaptive cycle conceptual model for Chiloé Island (southern Chile), defining its phases through a qualitative interpretation of historical documents, scientific articles, face-to-face interviews (Appendices 1 and 2), and based on the drivers that other authors have associated with each phase (Table 2). We have also used the information to analyze ecosystem services (ES) in each phase and their changes through time (Table 3 and Fig. 3) with the goal of testing if they agree with the relationships proposed in the literature (Table 1). Results show that Chiloé Island’s adaptive cycle has gone through two collapse phases Ω), the first between 1960 and 1966 and the second, validated by interviews with local social actors, between 2007 and, at least, 2016 (Fig. 2). Folke (2006:260), discussing the definition of resilience for social-ecological systems (SES), states that one of its meanings is “the degree to which the system can build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation.” However, Fath et al. (2015) emphasize the system’s capacity to move through all the adaptive cycle phases. The information gathered shows that Chiloé went through the first collapse phase, moving into a reorganization phase (α (i); Fig. 2), with profound changes in its social-ecological conditions. It is still too early to know the result of the second, current, collapse phase. Therefore, our historical analysis suggests that Chiloé’s social-ecological system is resilient and that a new reorganization phase could rise in the following years. However, chilotes have paid the price, losing their identity, as shown in the decreasing trend of cultural ecosystem services (Fig. 3B). Alternatively, the Chiloé Island SES may be inside the rigidity trap generated by the upper (Chilean national-regional) adaptive cycle. In this case, the system could become maladaptive, losing its adaptive capabilities (Holling 2001).
Sheppard (1995) and Humpries and Winemiller (2009) mention that, when developing regional policies and programs, it is frequent to make mistakes if the adaptive history of complex systems, such as Chiloé Island, is unknown. Each generation accepts as a baseline for ecosystems and societies the conditions they knew at the beginning of their life, using them to assess changes. Soga and Gaston (2018) state that human perception is limited, and as a result, the lack of experiences, memory, or knowledge of local people about past conditions (known as “environmental generational amnesia”) may generate nonsustainable objectives for socioeconomic development. Delgado et al. (2009) also propose that under uncertain conditions, a sense of “environmental nostalgia” in tune with the Spanish expression todo tiempo pasado fue mejor (the good old days) may prevail. Even considered a heuristic (e.g., Thanh et al. 2020), the adaptive cycle is a robust conceptual framework that depicts long-term changes in a SES becoming a system’s environmental memory. Resulting models can then be used, along with other shorter time frameworks such as the Drivers-Pressures-State-Impact (DPSIR; Pintér et al. 2008), to improve the knowledge of the relationships between social and ecological subsystems at different time scales.
The ES analysis showed that only provisioning services agree (Fig. 3A) with the proposed hypothetical relationships with the adaptive cycle phases. This method forces researchers to gather vast amounts of information, but it allowed us to understand the long-term changes (in this case, 190 years: 1826–2016) of an SES. This long-term perspective showed that some large-scale socioeconomic processes, such as the globalization and neoliberal economy, imprinted on Chiloé social-ecological system after 1969 (Fig. 4), may have disentangled the local relationships between adaptive cycles phases and ecosystem services, as proposed (Table 1), especially for cultural ecosystem services that depend on preserving traditions (Quiñones 2020). However, Burkhard et al. (2011) state that two phases (exploitation [r] and conservation [K]) may have high uncertainties on ecosystem services, and Delgado et al. (2019a) propose ES are unpredictable in the reorganization phase (α). Schmitz (2010:258), discussing ecosystem complexity, proposes that we should always consider the issue of contingency, which “arises when the nature and strength of ecosystem functioning in different locations are different realizations of the same underlying process.” Therefore, there are two possible explanations for our phases/services results: (1) long-term processes, i.e., cross-scale interactions, change the expected local relationships; or (2) the relationships are contingent to the type of service and the structure and functions of each ecosystem, without a general rule. We leave these two ideas as working hypotheses that should be analyzed with a broader set of empirical phases/services studies.
Cross-scale process analyses allowed us to identify the system’s connections that have modified its social-ecological behavior (Fig. 4). Human well-being depends on a social-ecological systems’ resilience, making the analysis of adaptive cycles and their cross-scale connections necessary (McGinnis and Ostrom 2014, Fath et al. 2015). Cross-scale interactions that jump one cycle of the panarchy may be especially important to analyze, e.g., the remember connection between the global and local scale cycles (Fig. 4).
Also, looking for rigidity traps is essential to scrutinize phase changes and resilience. In our case, rigidity appeared as gilded traps (Fig. 4). Although from an economic perspective, aquaculture is attractive, it also generates risks that have been associated with gilded traps, such as a propensity to diseases (Murray and Peeler 2005), in our case, the ISA virus triggering the 2007 collapse phase (Ω; Fig. 2 and Appendix 1).
Currently, there are no local adaptive management schemes for Chiloé Island. Therefore, it is difficult to respond to global processes, e.g., the Chile-Japan agreement. Our results suggest that Chiloé Island is either in a collapse phase (Ω) or a late-stage conservation phase (K). If the phase is the latter, we propose that the system is within a rigidity trap due to several governmental economic subsidies, or “perverse subsidies” (Bagstad et al. 2007). Vang Rasmussen and Reenberg (2012) propose that excessive subsidies may move a system into a rigidity trap because connectivity is increased through political interventions. In consequence, this type of governmental help becomes a long-term enemy of local sustainability.
Maintaining a conservation phase (K) may be a good thing for social-ecological systems, but not through rigidity traps (Fath et al. 2015). If the Chiloé adaptive cycle is in a late-stage conservation phase (K), it will need economic diversification, a return to traditional practices, local regulations and inspections, and participative governance to avoid entering into a new collapse phase (Ω). However, from the perspective of public policies, Chile and other Latin American nations are centralized countries lacking the required regional-local contextualized instruments and with low social participation (Delgado et al. 2019c).
In summary, Chiloé Island’s social-ecological system seems to be crossing a critical moment. It is either in a late-stage conservation phase (K) or already in collapse (Ω). Its traditional culture has been disintegrated by external, global pressures. Two out of three ecosystem services show a long-term deterioration, independent of the phase of the cycle. Although some authors propose that it could also be an opportunity to reinvent its cultural identity (Mansilla Torres 2006), such a proposal will require an institutional-jurisdictional openness to start a bottom-up reorganization phase (α).
Based on the developed adaptive cycle model, we propose that Chiloé Island, studied as a social-ecological system, is currently going through a local collapse phase (Ω), with a socioeconomic and ecological breakdown resulting from the productive activities developed in the coastal zone, a lack of local control, and perverse subsidies. The national cycle (institutional-jurisdictional) is confined in a rigidity trap. Finally, the historical analysis of ecosystem services shows that phases/services relationships may be contextual to each service type, depending on long-term social-ecological trends and cross-scale interactions.
This work was financed by CONICYT-Chile (Proyecto Fondecyt Regular Nº 1170532). We thank Brian Chaffin and two reviewers for their comments that helped us improve our article. We also thank the graphic artist Elizabeth Silva Saldaña for her work with images of the phases. Finally, we want to express our deep appreciation for the warm welcome from chilotes that made our work very pleasant.
The data will be available upon request to the first author.
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