A leverage points perspective on transformation: Invitation to a Global Conversation

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From India to Mexico, from Bachelor students to senior scientists – people with a shared interest in social-ecological systems research from all over the world exchanged their ideas and discussed questions in four sessions of the online seminar series “Social-ecological systems: A global conversation”. Between October 2021 and February 2022 members of Leuphana University’s Social-Ecological Systems Institute shared their work with the world. This June, one more session will take place. Dave Abson and Julia Leventon will discuss the application of a leverage points lens as a way of exploring transformative change in complex adaptive social-ecological systems.

The notion of leverage points was first described by the systems thinker Donella Meadows, as places in complex systems where relatively small interventions can cause systemic changes. Meadows (1999) identified 12 leverage points from relatively easy places to intervene, but with limited capacity for systemic change (e.g., changing incentives, rules, or shortening system…

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The Decade on Ecosystem Restoration: How can we succeed as restoration scientists through knowledge sharing?

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In recent years, it has become clear that ecosystem degradation is a severe issue that affects the environment and people globally, and ecosystem integrity must be restored wherever possible. To promote and upscale restoration efforts globally, the United Nations designated the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Yet effective ecological restoration requires reliable and sound ecological knowledge to restore degraded landscapes, their biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services. Ladouceur et al. (2022) highlighted that knowledge and data sharing is set to play a crucial role in helping restoration ecologists to understand restoration outcomes. They also emphasized that the predictive capacity and effectiveness of restoration activities should be increased if up to 350million ha of degraded land are to be restored effectively in the current decade. A general lack of monitoring of restored sites, coupled with a need for more meta-analyses, syntheses, and comparisons across different biomes and habitats, means there is much scope…

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Mapping ecological restoration knowledge: linking theory and practice in an interactive online platform

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Ecosystems globally have become degraded through land use change, pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change in the past decades. Ecosystem restoration is a powerful tool to help combat land and water degradation and the associated damage to human livelihoods. Currently, information regarding restoration science and practices are dispersed across large numbers of scientific papers and other resources, without strong linkages between ecological theory and practice. Scientists are registering a need to improve the effectiveness of restoration ecology by organizing and improving the accessibility of existing knowledge. Heger et al. (2022) therefore aimed to fill this gap and provide an overview of restoration science and practices by linking empirical evidence with supporting theories. The authors recommend the development and implementation of an online portal that better connects and develops ecological restoration knowledge and research.

The authors compiled a list of many data portals that provided restoration information to scientists and practitioners, and…

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How can norms and policies be shifted to promote Earth stewardship and create sustainable futures?

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To tackle the major challenges our planet and society faces today, it is increasingly clear that transformations in wider society are needed to shift from the current growth paradigm to more sustainable pathways. Recent studies suggest that there are potential social tipping points that could shift us toward an Earth stewardship vision, which emphasizes sustainable built, natural, human, and social capital across society and nations. Chapin et al. (2022) aim to show that movement toward a stewardship vision could be facilitated by either policy incentives or social norms, and that there are other factors that many inform practical stewardship strategies.

The authors define earth stewardship as the proactive shaping of biological, social, and physical conditions to maintain, rather than degrade, critical earth-system processes to support the wellbeing of nature and humans from local to planetary scales. A stewardship-oriented transformation would involve system change with very different human-environment interactions and feedbacks…

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What are the most relevant indicators for social-ecological archetype mapping? A data-driven methodological routine in Andalusia, Spain

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Human-nature interactions and social-ecological systems (SES) research is becoming increasingly significant as biodiversity and climate change result in more attention being paid to these relationships and what characterizes such systems. Different approaches to detecting, mapping and characterizing SESs have been an important tool in empirically researching these, yet few studies have looked at indicators and variables which can help to map and identify diversity in SESs. Thus, Pacheco-Romero et al. (2022) proposed using a data-driven methodological routine to investigate and identify the most relevant indicators for mapping and characterizing SES archetypes in a particular region. Identifying these indicators could allow for the development of a more holistic and standardized way of managing, researching, and monitoring social-ecological systems.

Ohanes, Santuario de Tices, Luajar de Andarax (2014).

The authors investigated the relevance of 86 SES indicators in Andalusia, Spain, as a case study, by applying a methodological routine based on multivariate statistical…

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How do human pressures affect protected area effectiveness in western Tanzania?

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Across the globe, human-induced pressures are in large part causing losses in biodiversity. Protected areas (PAs) are key conservation tools, but in the face of biodiversity loss their ecological effectiveness is increasingly contested. In East Africa, there are wide and varying PA networks, yet some of these have faced severe declines in large mammal populations over the last decades, with habitat loss and direct exploitation being identified as the main drivers thereof. Giliba et al. (2022) aimed to understand and assess the ecological effectiveness of PAs in western Tanzania, specifically in the Katava-Rukwa Ecosystem (KRE). The authors investigated changes in land use and population density of six large mammal species over time and across different protected areas and conservation categories, from unprotected to strictly protected areas.

Six surveys from 1991 to 2018 were analysed by the authors, involving remote sensing and aerial wildlife surveys to understand the spatial and temporal…

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How can we build inclusive and sustainable futures for all? Disabled populations and climate and environmental change

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Climate and environmental change already have grave and disproportionate impacts on disabled populations, yet these are projected to increase. This constitutes a challenge for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which were created to mitigate these changes. Data on climate and environmental change impacts on disabled populations is extremely lacking, despite being the largest marginalized group, and progress in addressing this within the environmental justice framework is slow. Therefore, Kosanic et al. (2022) critically evaluated the different evidence of climate impacts on disabled populations in mainstream academic publishing. With this, they aimed to assess the current state of knowledge, and to provide recommendations for future research and policy regarding the disabled community and climate and environmental change.

Figure 1. An illustration of the disproportionate vulnerability towards climate-related hazards, such as flooding, of people with disabilities (source: Asad, 2017). (Kosanic et al. 2022)

The results from the authors’ literature review demonstrated the…

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Fostering comparative studies on social-ecological systems through the exploration of ecosystem bundles

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Ecosystem services are the services and benefits we receive from the social-ecological systems around us, and research on this has been increasing in recent years. Ecosystem services have been observed within social-ecological interactions, and when these are interrelated and reoccurring, they can make up ecosystem service bundles. These bundles could be utilized in research and management, however, especially with the growing recognition that any actions that preserve and enhance the supply of ecosystem services are desperately needed not only locally but across scales to the global level. Meacham et al. (2022) therefore synthesized their experience with ecosystem service bundles and explored how different elements can be used within social-ecological systems research and management.

Firstly, the authors examined the different perspectives and conceptualisations of the ecosystem service bundle concept, along with the benefits of using this bundled approach. They also explored which main issues existed for advancing research on ecosystem service…

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Postdoc: Social Science/Social Ecology

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Note: Below is a job ad (please help to distribute it)! Prof. Dr. Jacqueline Loos and Prof. Dr. Berta Martín-López are looking for a Postdoc to join the Grassworks project research team. The position is aimed towards ambitious candidates with experience in and a passion for social-ecological research and the chance to co-supervise fieldwork and collaborate closely with a range of stakeholders. The official job ad is linked here.

Leuphana University of Lüneburg stands for innovation in education and scholarship based on the values of a humanistic, sustainable and entrepreneurial university. The collaborative search for knowledge and viable solutions in the areas of education, culture, sustainability as well as management and entrepreneurship defines the university model with its award-winning College, Graduate School and Professional School. Methodological diversity and interdisciplinary cooperation characterize our academic understanding.

Leuphana University of Lüneburg (foundation under public law), Faculty of Sustainability in the Institute of Ecology…

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Comparing social-ecological systems using the leverage points perspective: A case study of rural landscapes in Ethiopia, Romania, and Australia

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As exemplified by the recent IPCC Report, we are experiencing unprecedented global change, and rapid changes in social-ecological systems. In their recent paper, Fischer et al. (2022) used a leverage points perspective to compare three rural landscapes and their system properties at different levels of depth, all of which had been previously studied by the Social-Ecological Systems Institute. The authors hypothesized that despite major socioeconomic differences, ultimately, the different landscapes may face similar sustainability challenges and have similar system characteristics.

A farm in the Lachlan River catchment in southeastern Australia.

The authors studied three rural landscapes in southeastern Australia, central Romania, and southwestern Ethiopia. They systematically compared these landscapes using the leverage points perspective and a transdisciplinary lens. In Australia, they studied a commercial wheat cropping and sheep grazing region in the southeast, while focussing on tree regeneration under different livestock grazing regimes. In Romania and Ethiopia, they studied…

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