Dr Brian Walker, CSIRO

Dr Brian Walker is researching resilience in social-ecological systems.

Dr Brian Walker: resilience and sustainability in social-ecological systems

Dr Brian Walker is an internationally experienced scientist working on ecological sustainability and resilience in social-ecological systems.

  • 30 October 2007 | Updated 3 April 2013

In this article

  1. Overview
  2. Publishing History


Page 1 of 2

Current activities

Dr Walker is an Honorary Research Fellow with CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences and is also Chair of the Board of the International Resilience Alliance, an international research group working on sustainability of social-ecological systems.

A key focus of his work is the significance of resilience (the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and to undergo change while still retaining essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks) in the sustainability of ecosystems and social-ecological systems.

Dr Walker co-authored the 2006 book Resilience thinking: Sustaining ecosystems and people in a changing world.


A key focus of Dr Walker's work is understanding the factors that determine how resilient social-ecological systems are when under disturbance pressures.

Dr Walker began his scientific career in southern Africa, where he developed an interest in ecosystem function and dynamics in tropical savannas and rangelands.

His experience covers research, teaching and environmental science leadership including 15 years as Chief of the former CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology (now CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences) after moving to Australia in 1985.

His previous employment includes:

  • Agricultural Officer in the Tribal Trust lands of (then) Rhodesia, responsible for land-use planning and agricultural extension, 1962-64
  • Research Officer, Department of Research and Specialist Services, Rhodesian Ministry of Agriculture - research into the ecology of rangelands and range management systems, 1968-69
  • Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Ecology, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Rhodesia, Rhodesia, 1969-75
  • Research Fellow at the Harvard Forest, Harvard University, USA, 1971-72
  • Professor, Department of Botany, and Director, Centre for Resource Ecology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1975-85
  • Head of Department of Botany, University of the Witwatersrand, 1983-85
  • Chief, Division of Wildlife and Ecology, CSIRO, Australia. 1985-99.

Dr Walker's scientific positions have included:

  • Chairman, International Decade of the Tropics Programme on Responses of Savannas to Stress and Disturbance, 1985-89
  • Member, Special Committee for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU)
  • Chairman of ICSU's Co-ordinating Panel on Effects of Climate Change on Terrestrial Ecosystems, 1987-90
  • Member, Scientific Committee of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme of ICSU, 1990-96
  • Chairman, Scientific Steering Committee of the IGBP core project on Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystem, 1990-97
  • Member, IUCN Commission on Ecology, 1987-94
  • Member, Australian Committee for UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program, 1987-96
  • Member of the Board, Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics, Swedish Academy of Sciences,1997-99
  • Chairman of the Board, Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics, Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1999-2002.

Academic qualifications

Dr Walker has been awarded a:

  • Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, from the University of Natal, South Africa, 1961
  • Master of Science in Plant Ecology, from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, 1966
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Ecology, also from the University of Saskatchewan, 1968.


In 2013 Dr Walker was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science for his outstanding contribution to science.

Dr Walker has served on numerous Australian and (previously) South African Boards and Committees.

He has co-authored two books, published over 160 scientific papers and edited and co-edited nine books.

He has supervised 13 doctoral, 24 masters and 30 honours students.

His awards include:

  • Canadian Commonwealth Scholar, 1964-68
  • Charles Bullard Research Fellow, Harvard University, USA, 1971
  • Postgraduate Scholarship in Agriculture, 1978
  • CSIR (South Africa) Postdoctoral Scholarship, 1978
  • Distinguished Graduate in Agriculture Award, University of Saskatchewan 75th Anniversary of the College of Agriculture, 1986
  • Ecological Society of Australia Gold Medal, 1999
  • Australian Centenary Medal for Service to Australian Society in Ecology, 2003
  • Ecological Society of America Sustainability Award (joint recipient), 2004.

He has held visiting research fellowships at:

  • Harvard University, Harvard Forest, USA 1971
  • Imperial College (London), Silwood Park, August-December 1975
  • Imperial College, May-August 1978
  • University of Jerusalem, Israel, September-October 1978
  • Institute of Animal Resource Ecology, University of British Columbia, October 1978-May 1979/li>
  • University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. July – September 1997.

Dr Walker is a member of editorial boards of:

  • Ecology and Society (electronic journal)
  • Ecosystems
  • Regional Environmental Change
  • Environment and Development Economics (Policy Board)
  • Springer-Verlag, Ecosystem Studies book series
  • Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions
  • Resilience.

He is a:

  • Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science
  • Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
  • Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry.

He is also currently a member of:

  • the Ecological Society of Australia
  • the Australian Rangelands Society
  • the Australasian Wildlife Management Society.

Find out more about Dr Walker's book on resilience thinking.