Integrating collapse theories to understand socio-ecological systems resilience

Cathy Rubinos, John M. Anderies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle in a journalpeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The world is facing new environmental challenges that may trigger the collapse of some social-ecological systems (SES). More extreme weather events may be much more common in the decades to come due to climate change. Although we have an idea of what climatic events to expect in each region, we know less about how SES can cope with these challenges. We study The Peruvian Piura Basin, which has been exposed to harsh environmental events associated with the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) for centuries. The Piura basin was home to the ancient Moche civilization, which collapsed due to a combination of factors, but strong El Nino events likely played a significant role. To analyze the resilience of The Piura Basin to flood events, we used as guidance the Robustness Framework and different propositions from prominent collapse theories to carry out a longitudinal study based on both primary and collected secondary data. We found that the Piura basin is very fragile based on almost all of the predictions of collapse theories (especially with respect to selfish elites, centralized governance, systems interconnection, anticipation capacity and sensitive dependence on resources), but the biggest strength is its growing stock of social capital. In small steps, user associations have been collectively working towards solutions for water conservation and public-infrastructure maintenance. There is a long way to go, but with the right policies to encourage the strengthening of these associations, the Piura basin could become more resilient to future El Nino events. This study also provides methodological and theoretical insights that can contribute to theory building for the resilience of SES.

Original languageEnglish
Article number075008
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
  • environmental change
  • resilience
  • robustness
  • societal collapse
  • socio-ecological systems


Dive into the research topics of 'Integrating collapse theories to understand socio-ecological systems resilience'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this