04.01.2022 | TOP NEWS, Biodiversity and People

How to use ecosystem services in social-ecological networks

Water ecosystems provide diverse material or immaterial benefits to the people (Picture: Pixabay)

Water ecosystems provide diverse material or immaterial benefits to the people (Picture: Pixabay)

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Report by María Felipe-Lucia, Senior Scientist at German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), and first author of a new publication in Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Leipzig. Social-ecological networks (SEN) have recently been proposed as a promising approach to conceptualise and analyse interactions and outcomes in social-ecological systems. In a social system, networks represent interactions between actors, such as knowledge exchange, trust, collaboration, which influence governance effectiveness. In ecology, networks depict biological nodes (e.g. species, patches) and processes that connect them (e.g., predation, landscape connectivity). Despite similarities in the approaches applied in both social sciences and ecology, these areas have developed largely in parallel without capitalising on their complementarity. As a result, there is limited integration of social and ecological theories, inclusion of ecological complexity in governance research, and vice versa. Building from different disciplines, in our new article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution we propose a typology to represent ecosystem service in SENs and identify opportunities and challenges of using SENs in ecosystem service research. 

SEN are increasingly recognized as a way to bridge these fields of research and develop social-ecological theory. In particular, the integration of ecosystem services in SEN could strongly contribute to such bridging and advice decision-making by assessing management options in the face of global change or regime shifts, among others. Yet, progress in conceptualising social-ecological systems is still hindered by a lack of clarity regarding which questions from ecosystem service research would benefit from a SEN approach.

Using Network analyses to understand Social-Ecological Systems

The promise of network approaches for studying and managing ecosystem services has recently sparked extensive discussion in the literature. From a more ecological perspective, pioneering work conceptualised ecosystem services as a multi-network of layers, in which ecosystem services can be an attribute of ecological nodes (e.g. weed diversity). Others represented ecosystem services as nodes in an integrated network together with ecological and social nodes.

In turn, from a more sociological point of view, the network perspective of ecosystem services could consist of building blocks or network motifs. Other studies have depicted ecosystem services as links between social and ecological nodes. Therefore, despite the potential of SEN to advance ecosystem service research, there was not yet a clear approach about how to best conceptualise individual ecosystem services in SEN analyses.

Facilitated by this academic exchange, the coauthors held a SESYNC workshop led by L. Dee, A. Guerrero and R. Friedman and including the researchers involved in previous publications, to build consensus on this topic. Our new paper communicates the outcomes of the SESYNC workshop and represents the culmination of this discussion by presenting a unified framework to advance ecosystem services research.

In this paper, we synthesize the different research streams contributing: 

  1. a typology of how to incorporate ecosystem services in SEN (i.e., as nodes, links, attributes and emergent properties of networks) matching key research questions in ecosystem service research identified in the recent literature;
  2. applications of SENs in ecosystem service research to foster: (i) understanding of the social and ecological drivers of ecosystem services; (ii) forecasting of the impacts of stressors; (iii) investigation of trade-offs between ecosystem services; and (iv) assessment of the effects of alternative management options;
  3. perspectives on how future studies could address the remaining challenges to fully utilise the potential of SEN in ecosystem service research.

Original publication:
(Scientists with iDiv affiliation bold)

Felipe-Lucia, M.R., Guerrero, A.M., Alexander, S.M., Ashander, J., Baggio, J.A., Barnes, M.L., Bodin, Ö., Bonn, A., Fortin, M.-J., Friedman, R.S., Gephart, J.A., Helmstedt, K.J., Keyes, A.A., Kroetz, K., Massol, F., Pocock, M.J.O., Sayles, J., Thompson, R.M., Wood, S.A., Dee, L.E., 2021. Conceptualizing ecosystem services using social-ecological networks. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2021.11.012



Dr Maria Felipe-Lucia
Research group Ecosystem Services Change, Department of Ecosystem Services
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Phone: +49 341 9733183
Email: maria.felipe-lucia@idiv.de
Web: www.ufz.de/index.php


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