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Top 40 questions in coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) research

Daniel Boyd Kramer, Michigan State University, James Madison College and Department of Fisheries & Wildlife
Joel Hartter, Environmental Studies Program, University of Colorado, Boulder
Angela E. Boag, Environmental Studies Program, University of Colorado, Boulder
Meha Jain, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan
Kara Stevens, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Kimberly A. Nicholas, Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies
William J. McConnell, Center for Global Change and Earth Observations, Michigan State University
Jianguo Liu, Michigan State University, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Department of Fisheries & Wildlife


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Understanding and managing coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) is a central challenge of the 21st century, but more focus is needed to pursue the most important questions within this vast field given limited research capacity and funding. We present 40 important questions for CHANS research, identified through a two-part crowdsourcing exercise within the CHANS community. We solicited members of the International Network of Research on Coupled Human and Natural Systems (CHANS-Net) to submit up to three questions that they considered transformative, receiving 540 questions from 207 respondents. After editing for clarity and consistency, we asked the network’s members to each evaluate a random subset of 20 questions in importance on a scale from 1 (least important) to 7 (extremely important). Questions on land use and agriculture topped the list, with a median importance ranking of 5.7, followed by questions of scale, climate change and energy, sustainability and development, adaptation and resilience, in addition to seven other categories. We identified 40 questions with a median importance of 6.0 or above, which we highlight as the current view of researchers active in the field as research questions to pursue in order to maximize impact on understanding and managing coupled human and natural systems for achieving sustainable development goals and addressing emerging global challenges.

Key words

coupled human and natural systems; horizon scan; human-environment systems; social-ecological systems; sustainability science; top questions

Copyright © 2017 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