• Open Access

Cultural Dimensions of Socioecological Systems: Key Connections and Guiding Principles for Conservation in Coastal Environments


  • Editor Ashwini Chhatre


Environments are complex socioecological systems demanding interdisciplinary research and conservation. Despite significant progress in characterizing socioecological complexity, including important inroads for measuring human wellbeing through ecosystem services approaches, cultural interactions with ecosystems remain poorly understood. Inadequate knowledge of cultural dimensions of ecosystems challenges the ability of conservation professionals to include these considerations in their programs. Ecosystem-based conservation without cultural considerations is not only insufficient, it risks producing unaccounted negative impacts to communities and misses an opportunity to build culturally meaningful alternatives. This mini review of relevant social science identifies five key cultural dimensions of ecosystems, highlighting examples from coastal North America. These key dimensions are: meanings, values, and identities; knowledge and practice; governance and access; livelihoods; and interactions with biophysical environments. We outline guiding principles for addressing these connections in integrated conservation research and application. Finally, we discuss potential methodologies to help improve interdisciplinary assessment and monitoring of cultural dimensions of conservation.