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Integration across a metacoupled world

Jianguo Liu, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, MI, USA


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Human-nature interactions are complex and have important implications for achieving sustainable development goals and addressing other global challenges. Although numerous studies have explored human-nature (or human-environment) interactions and generated useful insights, they are largely disintegrated. Because conceptual frameworks are the foundation of quantitative and qualitative integration, many have been proposed but focus mainly on human-nature interactions within a specific system. To reflect human-nature interactions between distant coupled systems, the framework of telecoupling (socioeconomic and environmental interactions over distances) has been developed. However, no framework has explicitly integrated human-nature interactions between adjacent coupled systems, let alone within a coupled system as well as between adjacent and distant coupled systems simultaneously. To fill such an important gap, in this paper I present an integrated framework of metacoupling: human-nature interactions within a system (intracoupling), between distant systems (telecoupling), and between adjacent systems (pericoupling). A metacoupled system is a set of two or more coupled systems that interact internally as well as nearby and far away, facilitated by agents affected by various causes with various effects. By differentiating and integrating intracoupling, pericoupling, and telecoupling, the metacoupling framework advances a systems perspective on global sustainability and human well-being. The framework can help uncover hidden systemic connections such as spillovers and feedbacks that may not be apparent when focusing on a particular system. To demonstrate the utility of the metacoupling framework, I illustrate its application to human-nature interactions within a global flagship nature reserve as well as between the reserve and the rest of the world. The illustration suggests that the framework has the potential to help holistically understand and integrate human-nature interactions from local to global scales, over time, and among organizational levels. Finally, I offer suggestions for operationalizing the metacoupling framework and discuss the need for new policy, governance, and management for a sustainable future across the metacoupled world.

Key words

Anthropocene; connection; conservation; coupled human and natural systems; globalization; human-environment interactions; human-environmental systems; human-nature interactions; intercoupling; intracoupling; metacoupling; metacoupling framework; metacoupled systems; Paris Agreement; pericoupling; social-ecological systems; sustainability; sustainable development goals; telecoupling; telecoupling framework

Copyright © 2017 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