Navigating the Socioecological Landscape
Version of Record online: 7 JUL 2008
Volume 15, Issue 5, pages 1466–1467, October 2001
How to Cite
Holmes, C. M. (2001), Navigating the Socioecological Landscape. Conservation Biology, 15: 1466–1467. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2001.01552.x
- Issue online: 7 JUL 2008
- Version of Record online: 7 JUL 2008
Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience. , editors. 2000 . Cambridge University Press , New York . 475 pp. (459 + xvi). $80.00. (hardcover) ISBN 0-521-59140-6 . $31.95 (paperback). ISBN 0–521–78562–6.&
Because conservation biologists have become more cognizant of the fact that the fate of our natural resources depends not only on the resilience of the resources, but equally on the system whereby they are managed, it was with some anticipation that I read Berkes and Folke's edited volume. While articulating the link between social and ecological systems is a much-needed step in conservation, one that provides a clearer map of the conservation landscape, actually navigating in that landscape is something different. Recognition of relations between social and ecological systems should not come at the expense of a proper understanding of the individual systems themselves. Such a synthesis is indeed the challenge of this book.
This edited volume is the result of a project on linking social and ecological systems that stemmed from a larger research program on property rights and the performance of natural ecosystems, initiated in 1993 by the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The aim of Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience is to exemplify the need for recognizing and acting upon the intimate link between social and ecological systems, particularly as they relate to issues of environmental management and sustainable development. The book works off the premise that social and ecological systems should be treated as components of a single system, in which changes in one component feed back into and cause adaptive change in the other component. This contrasts with more conventional analyses that treat the social and ecological systems as separate.
The volume is composed of 16 chapters organized into four parts, preceded by an introductory chapter that outlines the format of the book. The editors' primary objective is “to investigate how the management of selected ecosystems can be improved by learning from a variety of management systems and their dynamics” (p. 3). To this end, they use the case-study approach, with each case study addressing (1) how management practices suited for dealing with dynamic ecosystems emerged from local social systems, based on local knowledge, and (2) what social mechanisms lay behind these management practices. The case studies are detailed and diverse, including both historical and contemporary examples from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Each case study follows a similar format of identifying characteristics of the ecosystem, people, technology, local knowledge, and property-rights institutions that form the socioecological linkages of the study system. The editors do an impressive job of bringing together experts from a range of fields, including zoology, oceanography, anthropology, human ecology, ecological economics, and agricultural economics, to explore the connection between social and ecological systems across various ecosystems, such as northern coastal, arid/semi-arid and temperate lands; mountain, temperate, and tropical forests; and subarctic systems.
Each of the book's four parts explores a slightly different aspect of socioecological system linkages. In “Learning from Locally Devised Systems,” case studies of India's sacred groves, Icelandic fishers, and land-use systems in central Sweden illustrate the variation in utility of local and traditional resource-management systems. In “Emergence of Resource Management Adaptations,” cases from subarctic Canadian Amerindians, mixed-culture societies in rural Brazil, agroecosystems of the Nigerian rainforest, and Maine's soft-shell clam fishery shift focus to the adaptive nature of traditional and neotraditional systems of management and how these systems exemplify the dynamic nature of socioecological systems. In “Success and Failure in Regional Systems,” case studies centering on Mexico's forest ecosystems, pastoralist herding in Sahelian Africa, traditional systems of resource management in the Himalayas, and Newfoundland's cod fishery are used to emphasize the embedded nature of the social systems that manage resource use and articulate how local and traditional systems of management are not isolated from regional and national political influences. “Designing New Approaches to Management” steps away from case studies and synthesizes the lessons learned in the previous 11 chapters. The concluding chapter provides a list of seven general principles that can be used to shape adaptive resource-management strategies.
Each part of the book provides an impressive amount of information, with each chapter offering a wealth of supporting references. But is as a whole that the utility of this book is realized. The editors have set conventional Western resource-management practices against more community-oriented non-Western practices; they argue not so much that Western practices are inadequate but that non-Western practices do not get fair consideration. By illustrating that community-oriented resource-management practices, grounded in strong social institutions and norms of behavior, can sustainably maintain natural resources, the authors argue that a society's cultural capital—its “…means and adaptations to deal with the natural environment” (p. 13)—should be “integrated into management practices via adaptive-management regimes that recognize the dynamic, resilient nature of social-ecological systems.” This adaptive- management regime is diametrically opposed to conventional resource management, which is driven by western reductionist science ( “science of parts,” p. 347) and is inappropriate in “a world of uncertainty and surprise ” (p. 339).
Although it is clear that social and ecological systems are intimately linked, I raise a point of caution with a primary tenet of the book. The societies used as templates for successful adaptive management often share the characteristics of homogeneous composition, small size, limited market activity, and primitive technologies. It is potentially these factors, not an innate conservation ethic, that have led to sustainable management and by-product conservation. As any or all of these characteristics shift, the sustainability of the management system may collapse. In the final chapter, the authors caution that “… for the social-ecological system to persist, the integrity of the locally adapted systems in which the practices and mechanisms are embedded needs to be protected” ( p. 416), yet how this is to be accomplished is unclear.
It can be argued that the treatment of the social and ecological as a single dynamic system may dilute the strength of arguments better made had systems been examined separately. Despite any argument against its thesis, however, this book will find a wide audience across diverse fields because of the interdisciplinary nature of the problems addressed, and it will be well placed on the bookshelves of students, academics, and practitioners alike. For conservation to progress in the twenty-first century, in which both biodiversity protection and sustainable natural-resource use are desired outcomes of management actions, successful conservation practice must include an intimate knowledge of study systems, the integration of theory and practice in an applied framework, and the communication of ideas across scientific, political, and ideological boundaries. This book, by outlining an interdisciplinary treatment of the human dimension as an integrative element of systems management, offers a considerable advance in this direction.