Leveraging socio-ecological resilience theory to build climate resilience in transport infrastructure

Samantha Hayes, Cheryl Desha, Matthew Burke, Mark Gibbs, Mikhail Chester

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Anthropogenic climate change poses risks to transport infrastructure that include disrupted operations, reduced lifespan and increased reconstruction and maintenance costs. Efforts to decrease the vulnerability of transport networks have been largely limited to understanding projected risks through governance and administrative efforts. Where physical adaptation measures have been implemented, these have typically aligned with a traditional “engineering resilience” approach of increasing the strength and rigidity of assets to withstand the impacts of climate change and maintain a stable operating state. Such systems have limited agility and are susceptible to failure from “surprise events”. Addressing these limitations, this paper considers an alternate approach to resilience, inspired by natural ecosystems that sense conditions in real-time, embrace multi-functionality and evolve in response to changing environmental conditions. Such systems embrace and thrive on unpredictability and instability. This paper synthesises key literature in climate adaptation and socio-ecological resilience theory to propose a shift in paradigm for transport infrastructure design, construction and operation, towards engineered systems that can transform, evolve and internally manage vulnerability. The authors discuss the opportunity for biomimicry (innovation inspired by nature) as an enabling discipline for supporting resilient and regenerative infrastructure, introducing three potential tools and frameworks. The authors conclude the importance of leveraging socio-ecological resilience theory, building on the achievements in engineering resilience over the past century. These findings have immediate practical applications in redefining resilience approaches for new transport infrastructure projects and transport infrastructure renewal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)677-699
Number of pages23
JournalTransport Reviews
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 3 2019


  • Transport and society
  • climate change
  • engineering
  • infrastructure
  • socio-ecological resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Transportation


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