Adaptive capacity is a topic at the forefront of environmental change research with roots in both social, ecological, and evolutionary science. It closely related to the evolutionary biology concept of adaptive potential. In this systematic literature review we: 1) Summarize the history of these topics and related fields; 2) Assess relationship(s) between the concepts among disciplines and the use of the terms in climate change research, and evaluate methodologies, metrics, taxa biases, and the geographic scale of studies; and 3) Provide a synthetic conceptual framework to clarify concepts. Bibliometric analyses revealed the terms have been used most frequently in conservation and evolutionary biology journals, respectively. There has been a greater growth in studies of adaptive potential than adaptive capacity since 2001, but a greater geographical extent of adaptive capacity studies. Few studies include both, and use is often superficial. Our synthesis considers adaptive potential as one process contributing to adaptive capacity of complex systems, notes ‘sociological’ adaptive capacity definitions include actions aimed at desired outcome (i.e., policies) as a system driver whereas ‘biological’ definitions exclude such drivers, and suggests models of adaptive capacity require integration of evolutionary and social-ecological system components.
- systematic review