Managing ecosystems for resilience—the capacity to maintain function in response to perturbation—is among the most pressing ecological and socioeconomic imperatives of our time. The variability of biological and ecological systems at multiple scales in time and space makes this task even more challenging, yet diverse ecological systems often display striking regularities. These regularities often take the form of scaling laws, which describe how the structure and function of the system change systematically with scale. In this article, we review recent work on the scaling of human settlement sizes and fertility as well as the size distributions of forests. We demonstrate that systematic departures from expected ecological scaling relationships may indicate particular structuring processes (e.g., fire) or the perturbation and reorganization of ecosystems. In sum, we argue that scaling provides a powerful tool for understanding resilience and change in ecological systems.
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