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E&S Home > Vol. 15, Iss. 4 > Art. 21 > Abstract Open Access Publishing 
Complex Land Systems: the Need for Long Time Perspectives to Assess their Future

John A. Dearing, University of Southampton
Ademola K. Braimoh, Global Land Project, Sapporo Nodal Office, Hokkaido University; World Bank
Anette Reenberg, Global Land Project, International Project Office, University of Copenhagen
Billie L. Turner, Arizona State University
Sander van der Leeuw, Arizona State University


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The growing awareness about the need to anticipate the future of land systems focuses on how well we understand the interactions between society and environmental processes within a complexity framework. A major barrier to understanding is insufficient attention given to long (multidecadal) temporal perspectives on complex system behavior that can provide insights through both analog and evolutionary approaches. Analogs are useful in generating typologies of generic system behavior, whereas evolutionary assessments provide insight into site-specific system properties. Four dimensions of these properties: (1) trends and trajectories, (2) frequencies, thresholds and alternate steady states, (3) slow and fast processes, and (4) legacies and contingencies, are discussed. Compilations and analyses of past information and data from instruments and observations, palaeoenvironmental archives, and human and environmental history are now the subject of major international effort. The embedding of empirical information over multidecadal timescales in attempts to define and model sustainable and adaptive management of land systems is now not only possible, but also necessary.

Key words

adaptation; complex systems; Global Land Project; land systems; multidecadal timescales; resilience; socioecological systems; sustainability science

Copyright © 2010 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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