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E&S Home > Vol. 18, Iss. 2 > Art. 26 > Abstract Open Access Publishing 
Framing Sustainability in a Telecoupled World

Jianguo Liu, Michigan State University, USA
Vanessa Hull, Michigan State University, USA
Mateus Batistella, EMBRAPA Satellite Monitoring, Campinas, SP, Brazil
Ruth DeFries, Columbia University, USA
Thomas Dietz, Michigan State University, USA
Feng Fu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
Thomas W. Hertel, Purdue University, USA
R. Cesar Izaurralde, University of Maryland, USA
Eric F. Lambin, Stanford University, USA
Shuxin Li, Michigan State University, USA
Luiz A. Martinelli, CENA University of São Paulo (USP), Piracicaba, São Paolo, Brazil
William J. McConnell, Michigan State University, USA
Emilio F. Moran, Michigan State University, USA
Rosamond Naylor, Stanford University, USA
Zhiyun Ouyang, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
Karen R. Polenske, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
Anette Reenberg, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Gilberto de Miranda Rocha, Federal University of Pará, Brazil
Cynthia S. Simmons, Michigan State University, USA
Peter H. Verburg, Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands
Peter M. Vitousek, Stanford University, USA
Fusuo Zhang, China Agricultural University, Beijing, China
Chunquan Zhu, International Union for Conservation of Nature, China


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Interactions between distant places are increasingly widespread and influential, often leading to unexpected outcomes with profound implications for sustainability. Numerous sustainability studies have been conducted within a particular place with little attention to the impacts of distant interactions on sustainability in multiple places. Although distant forces have been studied, they are usually treated as exogenous variables and feedbacks have rarely been considered. To understand and integrate various distant interactions better, we propose an integrated framework based on telecoupling, an umbrella concept that refers to socioeconomic and environmental interactions over distances. The concept of telecoupling is a logical extension of research on coupled human and natural systems, in which interactions occur within particular geographic locations. The telecoupling framework contains five major interrelated components, i.e., coupled human and natural systems, flows, agents, causes, and effects. We illustrate the framework using two examples of distant interactions associated with trade of agricultural commodities and invasive species, highlight the implications of the framework, and discuss research needs and approaches to move research on telecouplings forward. The framework can help to analyze system components and their interrelationships, identify research gaps, detect hidden costs and untapped benefits, provide a useful means to incorporate feedbacks as well as trade-offs and synergies across multiple systems (sending, receiving, and spillover systems), and improve the understanding of distant interactions and the effectiveness of policies for socioeconomic and environmental sustainability from local to global levels.

Key words

agents; causes; coupled human-environment systems; coupled human and natural systems; coupled social-ecological systems; dispersal; distant interactions; effects; feedbacks; flows; globalization; investment; knowledge transfer; migration; socioeconomic and environmental interactions; species invasion; sustainability; technology transfer; teleconnection; telecoupling; trade; transnational land deals; water transfer

Copyright © 2013 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