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Copyright © 2003 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Gunderson, L. and C. Folke. 2003. Toward a "science of the long view". Conservation Ecology 7(1): 15. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art15/


Toward a “Science of the Long View”

Lance Gunderson1 and Carl Folke2

1Emory University2Stockholm University

Published: June 30, 2003

In The Art of the Long View: Paths to Strategic Insight for Yourself and Your Company, Peter Schwartz argues for an approach to decision making in business and management that involves a strategic cross-scale framework (Schwartz 1996). He develops a rationale and methodology that incorporate slow, broad variables, which he calls "macro factors" and describes as the big picture or a long-term perspective, with small, short variables or "micro factors." He also suggests that key uncertainties be identified as part of this approach. The heart of his methodology is the development of scenarios that can be used to elaborate strategies that are robust to plausible alternative futures.

However, it should be noted that Schwartz and others call this process an art, not a science. We argue that it requires going beyond planning and into scholarly discourse, data and information gathering, and long-term learning. That is, the development of scenarios is only the first step in a longer-term process that involves "testing" which of these scenarios might be unfolding and what information is needed to distinguish among these alternative futures.

We borrow from Schwartz's title and suggest that the current and ongoing special issues of Conservation Ecology are aiding in the development of a "science of the long view." These contributions are filling the large gap between science and policy in coupled systems of people and nature in two different ways. The first involves studies that integrate disciplines over decades and centuries, i.e., they take the long view. The second involves the development of new models, technologies, and techniques to understand how ecosystems operate over broad temporal and spatial scales.

Scenario-based planning is one approach to developing a long view. Although scenario-based planning dates back more than 50 yr, it is only in recent years that it has been applied to natural resource issues. This type of planning is an important part of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of the capacity of the world's ecosystems to support social and economic development. One current application involves the Northern Highland Lake District in Wisconsin, USA, where a team of scientists and stakeholders has been developing alternative futures in an area that is undergoing rapid change. These scenarios can be found at http://www.lakefutures.wisc.edu and are also described in Peterson et al. (2003).

Long-term studies, i.e., those that last more than the lifetime of a single investigator, of coupled social and ecological systems are critical to understanding the long view. This issue contains a number of articles that help explain these complex dynamics as they play out over time spans of centuries to millennia. The adaptive cycle (Holling 1986) and cross-scale panarchies (Gunderson and Holling 2002) are two key theoretical constructs that help explain long-term dynamics. These are wonderfully demonstrated in Redman and Kinzig (2003) and in Trosper (2003).

The special feature "Human ecosystems: toward the integration of anthropology and ecosystem sciences" concerns not only the integration of two disciplines but also the way in which the time scales of key dynamics match in the coupled system. The articles in this feature, edited by Tom Abel and Rick Stepp, examine methodologies for interdisciplinary research and action in an urban ecosystem in Chicago (Wali et al. 2003), historical meadow dynamics in southwest British Columbia (Lepofsky et al. 2003), the making of the montado ecosystem (Pereira and Pires da Fonseca 2003), and conceptual models as tools for communication across disciplines (Heemskerk et al. 2003).

The feature also includes articles that propose new models to explain complex systems, including Salthe (2003) on infodynamics and Tainter et al. (2003) on resource transitions and energy gain. Toledo et al. (2003) discuss other knowledge systems in a Mexican context. The editors of the special feature also contributed two thought-provoking articles (Abel 2003, Stepp et al. 2003), and we would like to thank them and the other authors for their efforts in making this feature happen!

There is also a new issue of the journal that includes articles on a broad spectrum of topics, such as novel approaches to the Internet (Graz 2003, Stevenson et al. 2003) and issues that are central to ecology and ecosystem management. These include studies of neotropical migratory birds (Tankersley and Orvis 2003), urban bird diversity and landscape complexity (Melles et al. 2003), the function of weed control in the restoration of tallgrass prairie (Blumenthal et al. 2003), and fisheries, predators, and Atlantic herring in the Gulf of Maine (Read and Brownstein 2003). Toupal (2003) analyzes four cultural landscapes and an effective method of revealing cultural concerns that are not identified through public forums. Schneider et al. (2003) present a fundamentally different approach to forest management in which stakeholders in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin balance conservation and economic objectives by weighing current management options from the point of view of their long-term effects on the forest.

The issue also includes reviews of five books on subjects such as spatial optimization, agrodiversity, monitoring impacts, historical ecology and marine complexity as well as a lively discussion section with new insights and responses to articles previously published in Conservation Ecology.

We have the privilege of editing this journal and are amazed by the level of novelty and sophistication that appear in the contributions submitted to Conservation Ecology. We take this opportunity to thank all the subject editors and reviewers who provide invaluable support in helping us evaluate the contributions. We trust that you, the reader, will experience many exciting moments exploring the special feature on human ecosystems and the new issue of Conservation Ecology. We also hope that these articles will serve as the beginning of a discourse whose objective is to take "the long view."


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a comment, follow this link. To read comments already accepted, follow this link.


Abel, T. 2003. Understanding complex human ecosystems: the case of ecotourism on Bonaire. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 10. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art10.

Blumenthal, D. M., N. R. Jordan, and E. L. Svenson. 2003. Weed control as a rationale for restoration: the example of tallgrass prairie. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 6. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art6.

Graz, F. P. 2003. An HTML-based concept model of the dry savanna woodland ecosystem for teaching and learning. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 9. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art9.

Gunderson, L. H., and C. S. Holling. 2002. Panarchy: understanding transformations in systems of humans and nature. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

Heemskerk, M., K. Wilson, and M. Pavao-Zuckerman. 2003. Conceptual models as tools for communication across disciplines. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 8. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art8.

Holling, C. S. 1986. The resilience of ecosystems: local surprise and global change. Pages 292-397 in W. C. Clark and R. E. Munn, editors. Sustainable development of the biosphere. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Lepofsky, D., E. K. Heyerdahl, K. Lertzxman, D. Schaepe, and B. Mierendorf. 2003. Historical meadow dynamics in southwest British Columbia: a multidisciplinary analysis. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 5. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art5.

Melles, S., S. Glenn, and K. Martin. 2003. Urban bird diversity and landscape complexity: species-environment associations along a multiscale habitat gradient. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 5. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art5.

Pereira, P. M., and M. Pires da Fonseca. 2003. Nature vs. nurture: the making of the montado ecosystem. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 7. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art7.

Peterson, G. D., T. D. Beard Jr., B. E. Beisner, E. M. Bennet, S. R. Carpenter, G. S. Cumming, C. L. Dent, and T. D. Havlicek. 2003. Assessing future ecosystem services: a case study of the Northern Highlands Lake District, Wisconsin. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 1. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art1.

Read, A. J., and C. R. Brownstein. 2003. Considering other consumers: fisheries, predators, and Atlantic herring in the Gulf of Maine. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 2. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art2.

Redman, C. L., and A. P. Kinzig. 2003. Resilience of past landscapes: resilience theory, society, and the longue duré. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 14. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art14.

Salthe, S. N. 2003. Infodynamics, a developmental framework for ecology/economics. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 3. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art3.

Schneider, R. R., J. B. Stelfox, S. Boutin, and S. Wasel. 2003. Managing the cumulative impacts of land uses in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin: a modeling approach. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 8. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art8.

Schwartz, P. 1996. The art of the long view: paths to strategic insight for yourself and your company. Doubleday, New York, New York, USA.

Stepp, J. R., E.C. Jones, M. Pavao-Zuckerman, D. Casagrande, and R. K. Zarger. 2003. Remarkable properties of human ecosystems. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 11. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art11.

Stevenson, R. D., W. A. Haber, and R. A. Morris.2003. Electronic field guides and user communities in the eco-information revolution. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 3. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art3.

Tainter, J. A., T. F. H. Allen, A. Little, and T. W. Hoekstra. 2003. Resource transitions and energy gain: contexts of organization. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 4. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art4

Tankersley Jr., R., and K. Orvis. 2003. Modeling the geography of migratory pathways and stopover habitats for neotropical migratory birds. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 7. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art7.

Toupal, R. S. 2003. Cultural landscapes as a methodology for understanding natural resource management impacts in the western United States. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 12. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/art12.

Trosper, R. L. 2003. Resilience in pre-contact Pacific Northwest social Lecological systems. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 6. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art6.

Wali, A., G. Darlow, C. Fialkowski, M. Tudor, H. del Campo, and D. Stotz. 2003. New methodologies for interdisciplinary research and action in an urban ecosystem in Chicago. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 2. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art2.

Address of Correspondent:
Lance Gunderson
Department of Environmental Studies
Emory University
511 Mathematics and Science Center
400 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, Georgia 30322 USA
Phone: (404) 727-2429

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