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Frontiers in socio-environmental research: components, connections, scale, and context

Simone Pulver, Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Nicola Ulibarri, Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy, University of California, Irvine
Kathryn L. Sobocinski, College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University; Long Live the Kings, under contract to NOAA-Northwest Fisheries Science Center
Steven M. Alexander, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, University of Maryland; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University; Environmental Change and Governance Group, University of Waterloo
Michelle L. Johnson, Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service
Paul F. McCord, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Michigan State University
Jampel Dell'Angelo, Department of Environmental Policy Analysis, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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The complex and interdisciplinary nature of socio-environmental (SE) problems has led to numerous efforts to develop organizing frameworks to capture the structural and functional elements of SE systems. We evaluate six leading SE frameworks, i.e., human ecosystem framework, resilience, integrated assessment of ecosystem services, vulnerability framework, coupled human-natural systems, and social-ecological systems framework, with the dual goals of (1) investigating the theoretical core of SE systems research emerging across diverse frameworks and (2) highlighting the gaps and research frontiers brought to the fore by a comparative evaluation. The discussion of the emergent theoretical core is centered on four shared structuring elements of SE systems: components, connections, scale, and context. Cross-cutting research frontiers include: moving beyond singular case studies and small-n studies to meta-analytic comparative work on outcomes in related SE systems; combining descriptive and data-driven modeling approaches to SE systems analysis; and promoting the evolution and refinement of frameworks through empirical application and testing, and interframework learning.

Key words

components; connections; context; coupled human and natural systems; ecosystem services; frameworks; human environment; resilience; scale; social-ecological systems; socio-environmental systems; vulnerability

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087