Gardner TA, Ferreira J, Barlow J, Lees AC, …, Viana C, Weinhold D, Zanetti R, Zuanon J., Philos Trans R Soc Lond, B, Biol Sci 2013; 368(1619):20120166
This week, a special issue about ‘Ecology, economy, and management of an agroindustrial frontier landscape in the southeast Amazon’ was published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Amazonia harbours the largest tropical rainforest in the world, and is valued for its contribution to global climate regulation, as well as its unique and rich biodiversity. It also provides a home and livelihoods to millions of people and provides timber and agricultural products for global markets. As is well known, human impact in Amazonia is causing the ongoing loss of its natural capital. Finding ways towards more sustainable land use is therefore a key issue.
In this paper, Toby Gardner and colleagues describe a major effort in promoting sustainable land use in the context of an initiative called the “Sustainable Amazon Network”. At multiple scales, this initiative seeks to understand the regional ecological system, as well as the social system and interactions between the two. The current paper does not present specific findings, but rather gives an overview of the initiative. We believe that putting together an initiative such as this deserves recognition in the peer community. We wholeheartedly support the authors’ statement that “building effective multi-sector and interdisciplinary research programmes at large spatial scales remains one of the most difficult challenges facing sustainability science”.
One aspect that is particularly interesting in this paper is the section on “Practical lessons and realities from the field”. This section discusses the various challenges and obstacles that come with a major transdisciplinary project, most importantly ‘developing and maintaining engagement with partners’. Although vital, the effort that goes into such large transdisciplinary projects is usually not visible in a standard empirical papers, and is not easily rewarded by existing funding and incentive structures.
We recommend this paper because we think this is an excellent example how to study social-ecological systems, and we hope that the initiative described can make a difference for the future of the Amazon and its people.