Coupled Natural and Human Systems Science: The Need, Challenges and Rewards
Wednesday, August 12, 2015: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM
309, Baltimore Convention Center
Paul R. Armsworth, University of Tennessee
Heather M. Leslie, Brown University; and
James R. Watson, Stockholm University
Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy
Ecologists need to embrace coupled natural and human systems approaches in their science if they are to provide much needed guidance on how we can sustain and improve the livelihoods of rapidly growing human populations without compromising the integrity of the ecosystems on which they depend. A coupled natural and human systems approach is vital for understanding ecosystem dynamics given the pervasive influence of humans on the planet. Coupled natural and human systems approaches focus on quantifying feedbacks within and between ecosystems and social systems. Research that embraces inter-dependencies between natural and human systems, contrasts with the trend in many ecological studies that treat humans as somehow separate from ecosystems (i.e., as an exogenous driver to be managed) or even, as inconsequential to ecosystem structure and functioning. These more traditional approaches to ecological research simply do not match up with the reality facing decision makers engaged in environmental management in our human-dominated world.
The interdisciplinary science of coupled natural and human systems, also referred to as sustainability science, is a rapidly emerging field, with particularly strong roots in ecology. This symposium will synthesize the current state-of-the-art in coupled systems research and highlight new theoretical advances, particularly those related to network analysis, agent-based models, and evolutionary optimization techniques. The symposium will demonstrate the relevance of a coupled systems approach to environmental policy and management through case studies drawn from diverse ecosystems, including montane forests, tropical islands and coastal marine systems, and diverse countries and cultures including Brazil, China, French Polynesia, Mexico and the US. In terms of interdisciplinary connections, ecologists will highlight connections between ecology and economics, anthropology, sociology, history, and other disciplines.
Ecologists will share their experiences of how taking a systems approach that integrates across disciplinary boundaries challenged them to ask new questions, to consider new kinds of data and to employ new analytical tools. The symposium will demonstrate how, by taking a coupled natural and human systems approach, our understanding of ecosystem dynamics is enriched. The symposium will also highlight how a systems approach that integrates stakeholders’ perspectives directly into the research process enables ecological science to inform effective solutions for policy and practice.