Multiple dilemmas confound social-ecological modelling. This review paper focuses on two: a modeller's dilemma associated with determining appropriate levels of model simplification, and a dilemma of decision-making relating to the use of models that were never designed to predict. We analyse approaches for addressing these dilemmas as they relate to shallow coastal systems and conclude that wicked problems cannot be adequately addressed using traditional disciplinary or systems engineering modelling. Simplified inter- and trans-disciplinary models have the potential to identify directions of system change, challenge thinking in disciplinary silos, and ultimately confront the dilemmas of social-ecological modelling.
Social-Ecological Systems and Human Wellbeing
Ecosystem-based management involves the integration of ecosystem services and their human beneficiaries into decision making. This can occur at multiple scales; addressing global issues such as climate change down to local problems such as flood protection and maintaining water quality. At the local scale it can be challenging to achieve a consistent and sustainable outcome across multiple communities, particularly when they differ in resource availability and management priorities. A key requirement for consistent decision support at the community level is to identify common community objectives, as these can form the basis for readily transferable indices of ecosystem benefit and human well-being. We used a keyword-based approach to look for common terminology in community fundamental objectives as a basis for transferable indices of human well-being and then compared those commonalities to community demographics, location, and type. Analysis centered on strategic planning documents readily available from coastal communities in the conterminous United States. We examined strategic planning documents based on eight domains of human well-being, and found that Living Standards and Safety and Security were the most commonly addressed domains, and Health and Cultural Fulfillment were the least. In comparing communities, regional differences were observed in only one well-being domain, Safety and Security, while community type yielded significant differences in five of the eight domains examined. Community type differences followed an urban to rural trend with urban communities focusing on Education and Living Standards, and more rural communities focused on Social Cohesion and Leisure Time. Across all eight domains multivariate analysis suggested communities were distributed along two largely orthogonal gradients; one between Living Standards and Leisure Time and or Connection to Nature, and a second between Safety and Security and Social Priorities (Education/Health/Culture/Social Cohesion). Overall these findings demonstrate the use of automated keyword analysis for obtaining information from community strategic planning documents. Moreover, the results indicate measures and perceptions of well-being at the local scale differ by community type. This information could be used in management of ecosystem services and development of indices of community sustainability that are applicable to multiple communities with similar demographics, regional location, and type.
Our human-dominant world can be viewed as being built up in two parts, social and ecological systems, each consisting of multi-level organizations that interact in a complex manner. However, there are knowledge gaps among those interactions. In this paper, we focus on studies filling two types of gaps in the socioecological system, some of which are case studies in the East Asia region and others are discussed in a more general context. First, we address the gaps between different levels of organizations in ecological systems, namely, (1) the importance of plant trait plasticity in bridging evolution and ecology, (2) linking primary producer diversity and the dynamics of blue carbon in coastal ecosystems in the Asia–Pacific region, and (3) research direction of climate change biology to fill the gaps across evolution, community, and ecosystem. Also included is (4) the gap between ecological monitoring programs and theories, which also addresses the potential of citizen science. Second, we illustrate the gaps between ecological and social systems through ongoing development of an ecosystem management framework, i.e., ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction. Finally, we summarize the benefits of filling the gaps for ecologists and society.
We propose a framework to support management that builds on a social–ecological system perspective on the Arctic Ocean. We illustrate the framework’s application for two policy-relevant scenarios of climate-driven change, picturing a shift in zooplankton composition and alternatively a crab invasion. We analyse archetypical system dynamics between the socio-economic, the natural, and the governance systems in these scenarios. Our holistic approach can help managers identify looming problems arising from complex system interactions and prioritise among problems and solutions, even when available data are limited.
There has been an assumption that because many large marine protected areas (LMPAs) are designated in areas with relatively few direct uses, they therefore have few stakeholders and negligible social outcomes. This article challenges this assumption with diverse examples of social outcomes that are distinctive in LMPAs. We define social outcomes as inclusive of both social change processes and social impacts, where “social” includes all perceptual or material human dimensions. We draw on five in-depth case studies to report social outcomes resulting from proposed or designated LMPAs in Bermuda, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Kiribati, Palau, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands & Guam. We conclude: (1) social outcomes arise even in remote LMPAs; (2) LMPA efforts generate social outcomes at all stages of development; (3) LMPAs have the potential to produce outcomes at a higher level of social organization, which can change the scope and type of affected populations and, in some cases, the nature and stakes of the outcomes themselves; (4) the potential for LMPAs to impart distinctive social outcomes results from their unique geographies and/or intersection with high-level politics and policy processes; and (5) social outcomes of LMPAs may emerge in the form of social change processes and/or social impacts.
As the environmental issues facing our planet change, scientific efforts need to inform the sustainable management of marine resources by adopting a socio-ecological systems approach. Taking the symposium on “Understanding marine socio-ecological systems: including the human dimension in Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (MSEAS)” as an opportunity we organized a workshop to foster the dialogue between early and advanced-career researchers and explore the conceptual and methodological challenges marine socio-ecological systems research faces. The discussions focused on: a) interdisciplinary research teams versus interdisciplinary scientists; b) idealism versus pragmatism on dealing with data and conceptual gaps; c) publishing interdisciplinary research. Another major discussion point was the speed at which governance regimes and institutional structures are changing and the role of researchers in keeping up with it. Irrespective of generation, training or nationality, all participants agreed on the need for multi-method approaches that encompass different social, political, ecological and institutional settings, account for complexity and communicate uncertainties. A shift is needed in the questions the marine socio-ecological scientific community addresses, which could happen by drawing on lessons learnt and experiences gained. These require in turn a change in education and training, accompanied by a change in research and educational infrastructures.
In various scientific disciplines resilience has become a key concept for theoretical frameworks and more practical goals. The growing interest resulted in multiple definitions of resilience. This paper highlights how and why resilience has become a meaningful concept guiding multiple disciplines to understand and govern social–ecological systems. Moreover, the concept of resilience can be operationalized in complex social–ecological systems that are inherent to change and unpredictable outcomes.
Marine social–ecological systems are constantly changing, and fishers who make a living from working the seas are continually adapting in response to different sources of variability. One main way in which fishers can adapt to ecosystem change is to change the fisheries they participate in. This acts to connect fisheries, creating interlinked networks of alternative sources of income for fishers. Here, we synthesize fisheries data and construct fisheries connectivity networks for all major ports in the US California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Fisheries connectivity networks are comprised of nodes, which are fisheries, connected by edges, whose weights are proportional to the number of participating vessels. Fisheries connectivity networks identify central fisheries in the US California Current Large Marine Ecosystem, specifically Dungeness crab and Spiny Lobster, and systematic topological differences, e.g. in network resilience and modularity. These network metrics directly relate to the social vulnerability of coastal fishing communities, especially their sensitivity and capacity to adapt to perturbation. Ultimately, improving knowledge of fisheries connectivity is vital if policy makers are to create governance institutions that allow fishermen to adapt to environmental, technological and management change while at the same time enhancing the social and economic value of fisheries. In doing so, new policies that account for fisheries connectivity, will lead to improved sustainable fisheries management, and enhanced socioeconomic resilience of coastal communities.
- MPAs, primarily aimed to the conservation and restoration of nature, may provide, in parallel, some social and economic benefits.
- Benefits are likely to occur at different time scales, which need to be identified to prevent or act against short-term losses.
- Participatory approaches to MPA establishment and management, along with effective communication, lessen conflicts and enhance management effectiveness.
Ecosystems influence human societies, leading people to manage ecosystems for human benefit. Poor environmental management can lead to reduced ecological resilience and social–ecological collapse. We review research on resilience and collapse across different systems and propose a unifying social–ecological framework based on (i) a clear definition of system identity; (ii) the use of quantitative thresholds to define collapse; (iii) relating collapse processes to system structure; and (iv) explicit comparison of alternative hypotheses and models of collapse. Analysis of 17 representative cases identified 14 mechanisms, in five classes, that explain social–ecological collapse. System structure influences the kind of collapse a system may experience. Mechanistic theories of collapse that unite structure and process can make fundamental contributions to solving global environmental problems.
As social–ecological systems enter a period of rapid global change, science must predict and explain ‘unthinkable’ social, ecological, and social–ecological collapses.
Existing theories of collapse are weakly integrated with resilience theory and ideas about vulnerability and sustainability.
Mechanisms of collapse are poorly understood and often heavily contested. Progress in understanding collapse requires greater clarity on system identity and alternative causes of collapse.
Archaeological theories have focused on a limited range of reasons for system collapse. In resilience theory, the adaptive cycle has been used to describe collapse but offers little insight into the mechanisms that cause it.
Theories of collapse should connect structure and process. Mechanistic, structure–process–function theories of collapse suggest new avenues for understanding and improving resilience.