Carleton University and the Resilience Alliance connection

By Allyson Quinlan
PhD, Dept. of Geography & Environmental Studies, Carleton University

Having recently defended my PhD thesis “Assessing ecosystem service governance: Interactions among actors in a rural watershed in eastern Ontario”, and now with an abundance of spare time on my hands, I thought I’d write about my next adventure only to realize that rather than beginning anew I’m merely embarking on the next phase of a journey I started years back.  This journey was born of a collaboration between researchers in Carleton’s Landscape Ecology lab and the Resilience Alliance (RA) (, an international, interdisciplinary research group. 

Upon graduating from Carleton’s Environmental Science program way back in ‘97, I spent the summer helping to launch one of the first online, peer-reviewed journals, Ecology and Society ( from the basement of the Tory building.  Despite my limited grasp of the technology, I managed not to delete any manuscripts from the server and even picked up some basic html.  But the real learning for me came from being exposed to the novel ideas being published in the journal.  This was a time of change and I felt I had a front row seat.  As Buzz Holling wrote in his editorial of the inaugural issue “Ecology is experiencing transformation, one that builds on synthetic and interdisciplinary research, that deals with problems at multiple scales, and that integrates theory, policy, and practice.”  Like all radical ideas it took some time for me to fully appreciate the implications of this statement.

Buzz and Allyson in Kruger

I continued down a mainstream ecology path, studying vegetation dynamics in northern Boreal meadows, finding some explanation for my research findings in the rangelands work of Brian Walker, who despite living on the other side of the world would eventually become an RA colleague, mentor, friend, and committee member.  Then returning to Carleton for what was to be a temporary gig at the journal, I found myself in the midst of an evolving organization as the RA developed a multi-year research program involving ecologists, economists, and social scientists from around the world to study linked social-ecological systems as a basis for sustainability.  Several years of working for the RA proved to be a fantastic education opportunity.  When I decided the time had come to continue with formal studies, however, I didn’t have to look far to find a place to take an interdisciplinary approach to contemporary environmental issues. 

Settling into Carleton’s geography department with co-supervisors Mike Brklacich and Kathryn Lindsay, I felt I had my bases covered with their combined expertise in human geography and landscape ecology.  I had the space to explore familiar and emerging concepts, grounded in the nearby Bonnechere River watershed, between Ottawa and Algonquin Park.  I drew from my background in ecology but used the lens of social science to discover important insights into the cross-scale interactions of governance actors and their role in sustaining valued ecosystem services. 

Now, on the heels of completing my thesis defense, I’ve returned to the Resilience Alliance, for a two-year term as Senior Research Fellow.  And though I’ve returned to a familiar place, the RA has also grown over the past few years.  A new cohort of more than 30 early career scientists – Resilience Alliance Young scholars (known as the “RAYS”), working alongside senior RA members continue a tradition of collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches to vexing environmental problems spanning local to global scales.  One recent product of the RAYS on which I collaborated, “Towards principles for enhancing the resilience of ecosystem services”, will be published in the next Annual Review of Environment and Resources.

For my own part I am reinvigorated by the opportunity to continue to work in a research environment that values academic rigor, collaboration, multiple perspectives, and a healthy dose of creativity.  I also welcome the variety to my schedule.  Recently, I facilitated the RA’s annual meeting in Montpellier France, where several new working groups were established that aim to extend resilience thinking into practice, policy, and education. Next month I’ll return to Stockholm to continue working on a resilience assessment approach with colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.  Other activities in my work plan include ongoing collaborations with fellow RAYS this summer comparing case studies, developing RA communications and outreach resources, organizing the next RA Science meeting, and most importantly facilitating the synthesis of research across RA nodes.  Synthesis opportunities will draw on two major new projects involvimg numerous RA members, a multi-year Arctic resilience assessment approved recently by the Arctic Council, and an NSF-funded project based at Arizona State University that will combine modeling and archaeology to investigate the roles of social and ecological diversity.

I expect my two years in this position will fly by and presumably I’ll then embark on a new path but in moving forward I see how this is all part of an evolving journey, one in which both Carleton and the RA have played a key role.

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