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Assessing environmental initiatives through an ecosystem stewardship lens

Alice Ramos de Moraes, Graduate Program in Ecology at the Institute of Biology, University of Campinas (UNICAMP); Ecosystem Ecology and Management Lab at the Environmental Studies and Research Center (NEPAM), University of Campinas (UNICAMP)
F. Stuart Chapin III, Institute of Arctic Biology and Dept. of Biology and Wildlife, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Cristiana Simão Seixas, Environmental Studies and Research Center (NEPAM), University of Campinas (UNICAMP)


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Stewardship has been increasingly used in the realm of conservation and sustainable land use as an important pathway for action. Ecosystem stewardship, a specific application of this concept, is an approach for natural resource management, but the lack of empirical examples is a shortcoming to its applicability. With this work, we aimed at investigating whether environmental initiatives taking place in a rural watershed in southeast Brazil can be framed as ecosystem stewardship and, if so, whether they address key social-ecological feedbacks that influence the quality of critical local ecosystem services (water, food production, soil, forests). Drawing on data from direct and participant observation at community and technical meetings, nine unstructured interviews, and gray literature, we demonstrated that three initiatives encompass all elements of ecosystem stewardship to some extent (dual goals of ecosystem resilience and human well-being, integration of processes across scales and emphasis on actions that shape the future). Only one initiative, a multi-stakeholder network, fully entails all elements of ecosystem stewardship. The initiatives overlap in space and time and entail pressing and non-urgent issues, therefore they promote, as a group, complementary ecosystem stewardship practices at various levels in the territory. They also address the key feedbacks responsible for the degradation of water, food production, and soil. Knowledge, relational values, and care are salient ingredients that combine in different ways, shaping each initiative. Our findings suggest that ecosystem stewardship arises from local social-ecological challenges combined with stakeholders’ knowledge and understanding of the system dynamics. Collaboration among initiatives can strengthen their effects on undesired feedbacks and enable the design of joint strategies to tackle the erosion of relational values. Actions focusing on reconnecting local communities and forests may safeguard the flux of ecosystem-service bundles on both the short and long term.

Key words

ecosystem services; local knowledge; natural resource management; relational values; rural landscape; social-ecological feedbacks

Copyright © 2021 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