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Application of the SES Framework for Model-based Analysis of the Dynamics of Social-Ecological Systems

Maja Schlüter, Department of Biology and Ecology of Fishes, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, Germany; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Jochen Hinkel, Global Climate Forum (GCF), Berlin, Germany
Pieter W. G. Bots, Technical University Delft, The Netherlands
Robert Arlinghaus, Department of Biology and Ecology of Fishes, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, Germany; Chair of Integrative Fisheries Management, Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany


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Social-ecological systems (SES) are dynamic systems that continuously change in response to internal or external pressures. A better understanding of the interactions of the social and ecological systems that drive those dynamics is crucial for the development of sustainable management strategies. Dynamic models can serve as tools to explore social-ecological interactions; however, the complexity of the studied systems and the need to integrate knowledge, theories, and approaches from different disciplines pose considerable challenges for their development. We assess the potential of Ostrom’s general SES framework (SESF) to guide a systematic and transparent process of model development in light of these difficulties. We develop a stepwise procedure for applying SESF to identify variables and their relationships relevant for an analysis of the SES. In doing so we demonstrate how the hierarchy of concepts in SESF and the identification of social-ecological processes using the newly introduced process relationships can help to unpack the system in a systematic and transparent way. We test the procedure by applying it to develop a dynamic model of decision making in the management of recreational fisheries. The added value of the common framework lies in the guidance it provides for (1) a structured approach to identifying major variables and the level of detail needed, and (2) a procedure that enhances model transparency by making explicit underlying assumptions and choices made when selecting variables and their interactions as well as the theories or empirical evidence on which they are based. Both aspects are of great relevance when dealing with the complexity of SES and integrating conceptual backgrounds from different disciplines. We discuss the advantages and difficulties of the application of SESF for model development, and contribute to its further refinement.

Key words

dynamic modeling; model development; SES framework; social-ecological modeling; social-ecological processes

Copyright © 2014 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.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087