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 E&S Home > Vol. 13, No. 2 > Art. 57

Copyright © 2008 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.
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Gunderson, L., and C. Folke. 2008. A different future. Ecology and Society 13(2): 57. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art57/


A Different Future

Lance Gunderson 1 and Carl Folke 2

1Emory University, 2Stockholm University


As we close the 13th issue of Ecology and Society and approach a new year, we’ll step out on a limb and speculate about our collective future. But first we present the observations about our current global situation that form the basis of such speculation.

The first observation is the continued increase in human dominance of global systems. From increasing carbon in the atmosphere, transference of terrestrial productivity to humans, or sequential collapses in marine ecosystems, humans continue to be the global driver of change (Fig. 1). The global linkages among ecological, economic, and social sectors are more apparent. The recent fiscal and economic crises suggest the downside of global connectivity and overconnectedness at the scale of the planet.

The second observation is that surprises are increasing. One only need to open a newspaper, log on to a news Web site, or turn on the television to get an indication of the never-ending string of surprises that appear to confront humanity. Some surprises such as jokes or winning a jackpot are welcomed. Others, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or oil that costs U.S. $500 a barrel, are shocks that must be managed. Surprises occur when our expectations about the world differ from reality. Surprises are a consequence of living in an increasingly complex world, full of uncertainties and the expanding scale of human impacts.

The third observation is that the consequences of action are more serious. We live in a time when the consequences of our actions are great. Human wealth and infrastructures have never before been as widespread on the planet. In spite of that, judging from their policies and decision making, large segments of society continue to operate as if development is disconnected from the life-supporting environment and processes of the biosphere. Nevertheless, losses from natural disasters are climbing exponentially, leading insurance companies to become primary funders of climate change research. Loss of the natural capital, ecological goods, and the services that form the basis for economic activity are all indicators of the increasingly serious consequences of pathologic activities.

One inference from these observations is that our future will not be like our recent past. Indeed, many scientists are now indicating that the information from our recent history that we use to plan for the future, such as the probability of floods or droughts, will have limited applicability in predicting the future. If that is true, we need to develop new ways of thinking about our relationship with our environment and start to prepare and act for adaptations and transformations. In short, we need to conceptualize a different future.

That different future will challenge our ability to adapt to changes in climates and ecosystems. That different future will be a combination of the known and the unknown. The outcomes of our adaptive capacity will in large part be determined by our creativity. As such, new and novel approaches will be required to deal with the types and magnitudes of issues that we face.

We believe that Ecology and Society is contributing to a different future for our planet. The ideas that are proposed, tested, and presented in this journal are becoming the foundations for change. The journal presents articles on local, regional, and global experiments in sustainability. This hard-won knowledge is critically important to our capacity to plan, adapt, and possibly even transform our integrated social-ecological systems. This issue continues in the same vein, presenting a diverse set of lessons as described in the following sections. However, we would first like to take time to recognize the annual Science and Practice Award. The winner of that award is described in the next paragraph.


Each year, Marco Janssen directs a small committee to present an award for the article in Ecology and Society that best integrates ecology and society as well as theory and practice. The Science and Practice of Ecology and Society Award for 2008 was awarded to “Omora Ethnobotanical Park and the UNESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve” by Eugene Hargrove, Mary Arroyo, Peter Raven, and Harold Mooney. Hargrove and colleagues (2008) present the story of “a dynamic hive of investigators, artists, writers, students, volunteers, and friends, all exploring ways to better integrate academia and society” in support of research and social-ecological stewardship at the southern tip of South America. A consortium of formal and informal institutions from North and South America all concentrate on research that strengthens local social institutions as well as biodiversity conservation at the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve at Cape Horn.


With some 60 articles, this is the largest issue published to date. Roughly a third of the articles are parts of special features. The special feature on The Influence of Human Demography and Agriculture on Natural Systems in the Neotropics edited by Ricardo Grau, Mitch Aide, and Ariel Lugo is complete. Other special issues that received new contributions in this issue are those on Risk Mapping for Avian Influenza: a Social-Ecological Problem edited by Graeme Cumming; Pathways to Resilient Salmon Ecosystems edited by Dan Bottom, Kim Jones, Charles Simenstad, and Courtland Smith; Do We Need New Management Paradigms to Achieve Sustainability in Tropical Forests? edited by Robert Nasi; and New Methods for Adaptive Water Management edited by Claudia Pahl-Wostl, Jan Sendzimir, and Paul Jeffrey.

The regular feature contributions cover a wide range of topics. Research articles include those by Fernandez-Gimenez et al. (2008), Pennington (2008), Brugnach et al. (2008), Kumler and Lemos (2008), and Yuan et al. (2008), who explore connections between social learning and ecosystem management in different settings and from different perspectives. Research by Njuki et al. (2008) in Southern Africa, Stephens et al. (2008) in northwestern Mexico, Sudtongkong and Webb (2008) in Thailand, Varghese and Ticktin (2008) in India, Plieninger and Schaar (2008) in Spain, García-Frapolli et al. (2008) in Mexico’s Yucatan, van Vliet and Nasi (2008) in Gabon, and Ballard et al. (2008) in the United States all provide lessons in the difficulties of ecosystem management. The articles by Basurto (2008) and Axford et al. (2008) look at management and governance issues in marine ecosystems. A research article by Cousins et al. (2008) examines the participation of stakeholders in conservation, and Enfors et al. (2008) develop participatory scenarios for dryland management. Ernston et al. (2008) look at social networks in relation to ecosystem services in urban areas. The other research articles, i.e., Hyder et al. 2008, Steel et al. 2008, and Potapov et al. 2008, and the insight article by Shamoun-Baranes et al. (2008) present new ways to integrate and synthesize information for better decision making. The alteration and rehabilitation of ecosystem goods and services are explored in articles by Sunderlin et al. (2008) at the global scale and Shields et al. (2008) at the watershed scale. Poot and colleagues (2008) explore intricacies of human impacts on bird migrations.

The insight articles provide a wide-ranging integration of theory and practice. Turner et al. (2008) argue for inclusion of various cultural perspectives in resource management. Better integration of the social and ecological dimensions of resource managements are themes put forth in articles by González et al. (2008), Giller et al. (2008), Macleod et al. (2008), and Gonzalo-Turpin et al. (2008). A must-read article is on adaptive capacity and traps (Carpenter and Brock 2008).

The synthesis articles touch on topics related to vulnerability to global change; Ericksen (2008) studies the food system, and Schwinning and colleagues (2008) look at the Colorado plateau. Perspectives on interdisciplinary and integrative research are presented by Setty et al. (2008), Miller et al. (2008), and Evely et al. (2008). Cox (2008) examines scale-related issues in common pool resource theory.

In summary, we want to take the opportunity with the closing of our 13th issue of Ecology and Society to thank the people and groups responsible for producing the journal. We thank the Resilience Alliance for its commitment to and support of a high-quality, open-access journal. We thank the subscribers for their interest and use of the material published here. We again express our deepest gratitude and appreciation to the subject editors and reviewers who carry a lion’s share of the work. Finally, the staff, Michelle Lee and Adele Mullie, who have managed the day-to-day operations, and the copy editors who improve all of our writing but are rarely acknowledged. Finally, we are grateful to our contributors for their hard work, from which the seeds of a different future grow.


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.


Axford, J. C., M. T. Hockings, and R. W. Carter. 2008. What constitutes success in Pacific island community conserved areas? Ecology and Society 13(2): 45. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art45/.

Ballard, H. L., M. E. Fernandez-Gimenez, and V. E. Sturtevant. 2008. Integration of local ecological knowledge and conventional science: a study of seven community-based forestry organizations in the USA. Ecology and Society 13(2): 37. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art37/.

Basurto, X. 2008. Biological and ecological mechanisms supporting marine self-governance: the Seri callo de hacha fishery in Mexico. Ecology and Society 13(2): 20. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art20/.

Brugnach, M., A. Dewulf, C. Pahl-Wostl, and T. Taillieu. 2008. Toward a relational concept of uncertainty: about knowing too little, knowing too differently, and accepting not to know. Ecology and Society 13(2): 30. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art30/.

Carpenter, S. R., and W. A. Brock. 2008. Adaptive capacity and traps. Ecology and Society 13(2): 40. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art40/.

Cousins, J. A., J. P. Sadler, and J. Evans. 2008. Exploring the role of private wildlife ranching as a conservation tool in South Africa: stakeholder perspectives. Ecology and Society 13(2): 43. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art43/.

Cox, M. 2008. Balancing accuracy and meaning in common-pool resource theory. Ecology and Society 13(2): 44. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art44/.

Enfors, E. I., L. J. Gordon, G. D. Peterson, and D. Bossio. 2008. Making investments in dryland development work: participatory scenario planning in the Makanya catchment, Tanzania. Ecology and Society 13(2): 42. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art42/.

Erickson, P. J. 2008. What is the vulnerability of a food system to global environmental change? Ecology and Society 13(2): 14. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art14/.

Ernston, H., S. Sörlin, and T. Elmqvist. 2008. Social movements and ecosystem services: the role of social network structure in protecting and managing urban green areas in Stockholm. Ecology and Society 13(2): 39. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art39/.

Evely, A. C., I. Fazey, M. Pinard, and X. Lambin. 2008. The influence of philosophical perspectives in integrative research: a conservation case study in the Cairngorms National Park. Ecology and Society 13(2): 52. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art52/.

Fernandez-Gimenez, M. E., H. L. Ballard, and V. E. Sturtevant. 2008. Adaptive management and social learning in collaborative and community-based forestry organizations in the western USA. Ecology and Society 13(2): 4. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art4/.

García-Frappoli, E., V. M. Toledo, and J. Martinez-Alier. 2008. Adaptations of a Yucatec Maya multiple-use ecological management strategy to ecotourism. Ecology and Society 13(2): 31. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art31/.

Giller, K. E., C. Leeuwis, J. A. Andersson, W. Andriesse, A. Brouwer, P. Frost, P. Hebinck, I. Heitkönig, M. K. van Ittersum, N. Koning, R. Ruben, M. Slingerland, H. Udo, T. Veldkamp, C. van de Vijver, M. T. van Wijk, and P. Winmeijer. 2008. Competing claims on natural resources: what role for science? Ecology and Society 13(2): 34. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art34/.

González, J. A., C. Montes, J. Rodríguez, and W. Tapia. 2008. Rethinking the Galapagos Islands as a complex social-ecological system: implications for conservation and management. Ecology and Society 13(2): 13. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art13/.

Gonzalo-Turpin, H., N. Couix, and L. Hazard. 2008. Rethinking partnerships with the aim of producing knowledge with practical relevance: a case study in the field of ecological restoration. Ecology and Society 13(2): 53. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art53/.

Hargrove, E. C., M. T. K. Arroyo, P. H. Raven, and H. Mooney. 2008. Omoro Ethnobotanical Park and the UNESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve. Ecology and Society 13(2): 49. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art49/.

Hyder, A., B. Leung, and Z. Miao. 2008. Integrating data, biology, and decision models for invasive species management: application to leafy spruce (Euphorbia esula). Ecology and Society 13(2): 12. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art12/.

Kumler, L. M., and M. C. Lemos. 2008. Managing waters of the Paraíba do Sul River basin, Brazil: a case study in institutional change and social learning. Ecology and Society 13(2): 22. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art22/.

Macleod, C. J. A., K. L. Blackstock,and P. M. Haygarth. 2008. Mechanisms to improve integrative research at the science-policy interface for sustainable catchment management. Ecology and Society 13(2): 48. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art48/.

Miller, T. R., T. D. Baird, C. M. Littlefield, G. Kofinas, F. S. Chapin III, and C. L. Redman. 2008. Epistemological pluralism: reorganizing interdisciplinary research. Ecology and Society 13(2): 46. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/ar46/.

Njuki, J. M., M. T. Mapila, S. Zingore, and R. Delve. 2008. The dynamics of social capital in influencing use of soil management options in the Chinyanja Triangle of Southern Africa. Ecology and Society 13(2): 9. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art9/.

Pennington, D. D. 2008. Cross-disciplinary collaboration and learning. Ecology and Society 13(2): 8. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art8/.

Plieninger, T., and M. Schaar. 2008. Modification of land cover in a traditional agroforestry system in Spain: processes of tree expansion and regression. Ecology and Society 13(2): 25. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art25/.

Poot, H., B. J. Ens, H. de Vries, M. A. H. Donners, M. R. Wernand, and J. M. Marquenie. 2008. Green light for nocturnally migrating birds. Ecology and Society 13(2): 47. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art47/.

Potapov, P., A. Yaroshenko, S. Turubanova, M. DDubinin, L. Laestadius, C. Thies, D. Akesenov, A. Egorov, Y. Yesipova, I. Glushkov, M. Karpachevskiy, A. Kostikova, A. Manisha, E. Tsybikova, and I. Zhuravleva. 2008. Mapping the world's intact forest landscapes by remote sensing. Ecology and Society 13(2): 51. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art51/.

Schwinning, S., J. Belnap, D. R. Bowling, and J. R. Ehleringer. 2008. Sensitivity of the Colorado Plateau to change: climate, ecosystems, and society. Ecology and Society 13(2): 28. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art28/.

Setty, R. S., K. Bawa, T. Ticktin, and C. M. Gowda. 2008. Evaluation of a participatory resource monitoring system for nontimber forest products: the case of amla (Phyllantus spp.) fruit havest of Soligas in South India. Ecology and Society 13(2): 19. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art19/.

Shamoun-Baranes, J., W. Bouten, L. Buurma, R. DeFusco, A. Dekker, H. Sierdsema, F. Sluiter, J. van Belle, H. van Gasteren, and E. van Loon. 2008. Avian information systems: developing Web-based bird avoidance models. Ecology and Society 13(2): 38. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art38/.

Shields, F. D., Jr., S. R. Pezeshki, G. V. Wilson, W. Wu, and S. M. Dabney. 2008. Rehabilitation of an incised stream using plant materials: the dominance of geomorphic processes. Ecology and Society 13(2): 54. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art54/.

Steel, E. A., A. Fullerton, Y. Caras, M. B. Sheer, P. Olson, D. Jensen, J. Burke, M. Maher, and P. McElhany. 2008. A spatially explicit descision support system for watershed-scale management of salmon. Ecology and Society 13(2): 50. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art50/.

Stephens, S. L., D. L. Fry, and E. Franco-Vizcaíno. 2008. Wildfire and spatial patterns in forests in northwestern Mexico: the United States wishes it had similar fire problems. Ecology and Society 13(2): 10. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art10/.

Sudtongkong, C., and E. L. Webb. 2008. Outcomes of state- vs. community-based mangrove management in southern Thailand. Ecology and Society 13(2): 27. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art27/.

Sunderlin, W. D., S. Dewi, A. Puntodewo, D. Müller, A. Angelsen, and M. Epprecht. 2008. Why forests are important for global poverty alleviation: a spatial explanation. Ecology and Society 13(2): 24. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art24/.

Turner, N. J., R. Gregory, C. Brooks, L. Failing, and T. Satterfield. 2008. From invisibility to transparency: identifying the implications. Ecology and Society 13(2): 7. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art7/.

van Vliet, N., and R. Nasi. 2008. Hunting for livelihood in northeast Gabon: patterns, evolution, and sustainability. Ecology and Society 13(2): 33. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art33/.

Varghese, A., and T. Ticktin. 2008. Regional variation in nontimber forest product harvest strategies, trade, and ecological impacts: the case of black dammar (Canarium strictum Roxb.) use and conservation in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, India. Ecology and Society 13(2): 11. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art11/.

Yuan, J., L. Dai, and Q. Wang. 2008. State-led ecotourism development and nature conservation: a case study of the Changbai Mountain Biosphere Reserve, China. Ecology and Society 13(2): 55. Online URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art55/.

Address of Correspondent:
Lance Gunderson
Department of Environmental Studies
Emory University
511 Mathematics and Science Center
400 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, Georgia 30322 USA
Phone: (404) 727-2429


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