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Achieving the promise of integration in social-ecological research: a review and prospectus

Angela M Guerrero, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland; Luc Hoffmann Institute; ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland
Nathan J Bennett, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada; University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, Nice, France; Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University, California, USA
Kerrie A Wilson, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland; ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland
Neil Carter, Human-Environment Systems Center, Boise State University
David Gill, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), Annapolis, Maryland, USA; Luc Hoffmann Institute; Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Beaufort, North Carolina, USA
Morena Mills, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London; Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Australia
Christopher D Ives, School of Geography, University of Nottingham, UK
Matthew J Selinske, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University; ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland
Cecilia Larrosa, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London; Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford; Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore
Sarah Bekessy, ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland; Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University
Fraser A Januchowski-Hartley, UMR 248 MARBEC, IRD-CNRS-UM-IFREMER 9190, UMR 250 ENTROPIE, Université Montpellier, Montpellier, France; Department of Biosciences, College of Science, Swansea University, Swansea, UK
Henry Travers, Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
Carina A Wyborn, Luc Hoffmann Institute; College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana
Ana Nuno, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, UK

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-10232-230338

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Abstract

An integrated understanding of both social and ecological aspects of environmental issues is essential to address pressing sustainability challenges. An integrated social-ecological systems perspective is purported to provide a better understanding of the complex relationships between humans and nature. Despite a threefold increase in the amount of social-ecological research published between 2010 and 2015, it is unclear whether these approaches have been truly integrative. We conducted a systematic literature review to investigate the conceptual, methodological, disciplinary, and functional aspects of social-ecological integration. In general, we found that overall integration is still lacking in social-ecological research. Some social variables deemed important for addressing sustainability challenges are underrepresented in social-ecological studies, e.g., culture, politics, and power. Disciplines such as ecology, urban studies, and geography are better integrated than others, e.g., sociology, biology, and public administration. In addition to ecology and urban studies, biodiversity conservation plays a key brokerage role in integrating other disciplines into social-ecological research. Studies founded on systems theory have the highest rates of integration. Highly integrative studies combine different types of tools, involve stakeholders at appropriate stages, and tend to deliver practical recommendations. Better social-ecological integration must underpin sustainability science. To achieve this potential, future social-ecological research will require greater attention to the following: the interdisciplinary composition of project teams, strategic stakeholder involvement, application of multiple tools, incorporation of both social and ecological variables, consideration of bidirectional relationships between variables, and identification of implications and articulation of clear policy recommendations.

Key words

human-environment systems; interdisciplinary; social-ecological systems; stakeholder participation; sustainability science

Copyright © 2018 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.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087