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      Operationalizing the social-ecological systems framework to assess sustainability


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          Meeting human needs while sustaining ecosystems and the benefits they provide is a global challenge. Coastal marine systems present a particularly important case, given that >50% of the world’s population lives within 100 km of the coast and fisheries are the primary source of protein for >1 billion people worldwide. Our integrative analysis here yields an understanding of the sustainability of coupled social-ecological systems that is quite distinct from that provided by either the biophysical or the social sciences alone and that illustrates the feasibility and value of operationalizing the social-ecological systems framework for comparative analyses of coupled systems, particularly in data-poor and developing nation settings.


          Environmental governance is more effective when the scales of ecological processes are well matched with the human institutions charged with managing human–environment interactions. The social-ecological systems (SESs) framework provides guidance on how to assess the social and ecological dimensions that contribute to sustainable resource use and management, but rarely if ever has been operationalized for multiple localities in a spatially explicit, quantitative manner. Here, we use the case of small-scale fisheries in Baja California Sur, Mexico, to identify distinct SES regions and test key aspects of coupled SESs theory. Regions that exhibit greater potential for social-ecological sustainability in one dimension do not necessarily exhibit it in others, highlighting the importance of integrative, coupled system analyses when implementing spatial planning and other ecosystem-based strategies.

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          A general framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems.

          A major problem worldwide is the potential loss of fisheries, forests, and water resources. Understanding of the processes that lead to improvements in or deterioration of natural resources is limited, because scientific disciplines use different concepts and languages to describe and explain complex social-ecological systems (SESs). Without a common framework to organize findings, isolated knowledge does not cumulate. Until recently, accepted theory has assumed that resource users will never self-organize to maintain their resources and that governments must impose solutions. Research in multiple disciplines, however, has found that some government policies accelerate resource destruction, whereas some resource users have invested their time and energy to achieve sustainability. A general framework is used to identify 10 subsystem variables that affect the likelihood of self-organization in efforts to achieve a sustainable SES.
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            Leadership, social capital and incentives promote successful fisheries.

            One billion people depend on seafood as their primary source of protein and 25% of the world's total animal protein comes from fisheries. Yet a third of fish stocks worldwide are overexploited or depleted. Using individual case studies, many have argued that community-based co-management should prevent the tragedy of the commons because cooperative management by fishers, managers and scientists often results in sustainable fisheries. However, general and multidisciplinary evaluations of co-management regimes and the conditions for social, economic and ecological success within such regimes are lacking. Here we examine 130 co-managed fisheries in a wide range of countries with different degrees of development, ecosystems, fishing sectors and type of resources. We identified strong leadership as the most important attribute contributing to success, followed by individual or community quotas, social cohesion and protected areas. Less important conditions included enforcement mechanisms, long-term management policies and life history of the resources. Fisheries were most successful when at least eight co-management attributes were present, showing a strong positive relationship between the number of these attributes and success, owing to redundancy in management regulations. Our results demonstrate the critical importance of prominent community leaders and robust social capital, combined with clear incentives through catch shares and conservation benefits derived from protected areas, for successfully managing aquatic resources and securing the livelihoods of communities depending on them. Our study offers hope that co-management, the only realistic solution for the majority of the world's fisheries, can solve many of the problems facing global fisheries.
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              What Is Conservation Science?


                Author and article information

                Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
                Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
                National Academy of Sciences
                12 May 2015
                27 April 2015
                27 April 2015
                : 112
                : 19
                : 5979-5984
                [1] aDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and
                [2] bInstitute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown University , Providence, RI 02912;
                [3] cDuke University Marine Laboratory, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University , Beaufort, NC 28516;
                [4] dJoint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research/Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center , Honolulu, HI 96818;
                [5] eSmithsonian Environmental Research Center, Smithsonian Institution , Edgewater, MD 21037;
                [6] fCentro para la Biodiversidad Marina y la Conservación A.C. , La Paz, BCS, 23090 Mexico;
                [7] gScripps Institution of Oceanography, Marine Biology Research Division, University of California, San Diego , La Jolla, CA 92093-0202;
                [8] hHopkins Marine Station, Stanford University , Pacific Grove, CA 93950;
                [9] iDepartment of Economics, Brown University , Providence, RI 02912;
                [10] jCentral Science Division, The Nature Conservancy , Durham, NC 27701;
                [11] kFondo para la Protección de los Recursos Marinos , La Paz, BCS, 23090 Mexico; and
                [12] lSociedad de Historia Natural Niparaja A.C. , La Paz, BCS, 23020 Mexico
                Author notes
                1To whom correspondence may be addressed. Email: heather.m.leslie@ 123456gmail.com or xavier.basurto@ 123456duke.edu .

                Edited by Bonnie J. McCay, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Brunswick, NJ, and approved April 2, 2015 (received for review August 22, 2014)

                Author contributions: H.M.L., X.B., M.N., and L.S. designed research; H.M.L., X.B., M.N., L.S., G.H.-A., S.M.W.R., K.S., A.H.W., and O.A.-O. conceived of the study; H.M.L., X.B., M.N., L.S., K.C.C., J.J.C.-N., E.F., G.H.-A., S.M.W.R., K.S., J.J.U.-V., A.H.W., and O.A.-O. collected the data; H.M.L., X.B., M.N., L.S., K.C.C., J.J.C.-N., B.E.E., E.F., G.H.-A., M.M.-B., S.N., S.M.W.R., A.S.-R., K.S., J.J.U.-V., A.H.W., and O.A.-O. performed research; H.M.L., X.B., M.N., and L.S. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; H.M.L., X.B., M.N., L.S., K.C.C., and M.M.-B. analyzed data; and H.M.L., X.B., M.N., and L.S. wrote the paper.

                2Present address: Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095.

                3Present address: Marine Science Institute, The University of Texas at Austin, Port Aransas, TX 78373.

                4Present address: Cátedra Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, Centro Interdisciplinario de Investigación para el Desarrollo Integral Regional Unidad Oaxaca, Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Oaxaca, 71236, Mexico.

                5Present address: Sustainable Fisheries Group, Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106.


                Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.

                Page count
                Pages: 6
                Funded by: National Science Foundation (NSF) 100000001
                Award ID: GEO 1114964
                Funded by: David and Lucile Packard Foundation 100000008
                Award ID: n/a
                Social Sciences
                Sustainability Science
                Biological Sciences
                Sustainability Science

                coupled natural and human systems,marine,governance,small-scale fisheries,conservation science


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