Plural Valuation as a Tool for Transformative Change – Combining Insights from Ten Case Studies


From climate change to biodiversity loss – the world is facing complex social-ecological problems. In order to address unsustainable trajectories and social inequalities, fundamental changes at system level are required. Here, recognising people’s diverse values of and about nature and integrating plural knowledges into decision making and actions can facilitate transformative change. An approach called plural valuation constitutes one way to elicit diverse values of stakeholders and transform gained insights into consequent action. In their recent study, Zafra-Calvo et al. (2020) analyze multiple case studies to explore how different social-ecological contexts play a role in translating plural valuation into decisions and outcomes.

Plural valuation of nature is emerging from the interplay of different research traditions and aims to make the diversity of values people hold of and about nature visible by using a wide range of tools. The final goal of this process is to find solutions geared towards achieving…

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Potentials of Biocultural Approaches for Sustainability Research


Sustainability science is a discipline actively seeking solutions to current sustainability challenges. Core components include the adoption of a social-ecological systems perspective, the implementation of inter‐ and transdisciplinarity, and the commitment to solution-oriented work. For sustainability science to foster equality and amplify marginalized voices, the plurality of human–nature interactions and worldviews needs to be accounted for. To that end, a concept called biocultural approaches is increasingly perceived as a valuable tool. In their recent paper, Hanspach et al. (2020) present a systematic review of the application of biocultural approaches to sustainability in scientific journal articles published over the last 30 years. The authors identify seven distinct ways of understanding and applying biocultural approaches and analyze them with regard to their relation to the key aspects of sustainability science.

The concept of biocultural approaches to sustainability originates from the field of biological anthropology. Over the last decades, however, it has been…

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(Un)intentional Effects: A Social Network Analysis of the Spanish Network of Smart Cities


Today, roughly 55% of the world’s population lives in urban settlements. This number is projected to rise continuously in the future, challenging cities to transform themselves into successful, competitive units within a globalized world. A model called Smart City aims at delivering better structural advantages to cities through technical, economic and social innovations. A recent paper by Serrano et al. (2020) examines the Spanish Network of Smart Cities (RECI) to identify which cities are benefiting from Smart City initiatives and which role multinational firms play in this context.

Smart City is a collective term for holistic development concepts that aim to make cities more efficient, technologically advanced, greener and more socially inclusive. It is argued that, in the context of an increasingly competitive globalized world, the Smart City model can deliver a better city governance by taking advantage of the possibilities provided by information and communication technology developed by means…

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Scavenger Hunt: Identifying Contributions of Scavenger Species to Humans


From hyenas in Africa to grey wolves in Europe and the Andean condor in South America – a large variety of scavengers populates the earth. These animals provide a myriad of benefits as well as disbenefits to people. The concept of nature’s contributions to people (NCP) aims at understanding and analysing such human-nature connections. In a recent study, Aguilera-Alcalá et al. (2020) focused on non-material NCP provided by different species of scavengers in Spain.

The two scavenger species Canis lupus (grey wolf) and Gyps fulvus (griffon vulture) can both be found in Spain.

Scavengers are animals that totally or partially rely on carrion as a food resource. Multiple contributions of scavengers to human well-being are documented: from regulating diseases, recycling nutrients to helping humans find food and having spiritual meanings and uses in cultures around the world. Yet, human-scavenger relations also lead to conflicts because of the predatory behaviour of…

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Collaborating with Care: Experiences from a Virtual Workshop


The current pandemic affects all aspects of personal as well as professional lives. In academia, collaboration of research teams is being restricted by travel-bans and other safety measures. The Care Operative, a group of 20 international sustainability science colleagues who were planning to attend in-person meetings this March, was prohibited from gathering through COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Thus, the group decided to shift the planned workshop online and adapt for virtual collaboration. In a recently published report, they share their experiences on how to create online workshops that are productive and at the same time engaging, caring, and fun. To this end, they identify dispositions, practices, and techniques that facilitated their positive online interaction.

Joint activities like trying to clap simultaneously, stretching, or getting up and finding an object with a particular quality (e.g. a hat, something yellow, etc.) can enliven virtual gatherings and recharge mental and physical batteries. (The Care…

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Exploring the IPBES’s Work on Capacity Building


An ongoing loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems can be observed globally. In order for political decisions to be based on the best available knowledge which takes into account the complex interactions between biodiversity, ecosystem services and society, the call for an intergovernmental and independent body increased over the years. As a result, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services IPBES was established in 2012. In a recently published paper, Gustafsson et al. (2020) examine the IPBES’s work on capacity building. To that end, the study focuses on three dimensions of the organization’s work. First, the IPBES’s general strategy for capacity building is analyzed. Next, the authors inspect the IPBES’s fellowship programme. Finally, they explore to what extent there are additional capacity building needs that may need to be addressed by the IPBES.

The IPBES was established in order to provide scientific information on biodiversity and…

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Scaling the Impact of Sustainability Initiatives: A Typology of Amplification Processes


All over the world, small and large initiatives work on creating a more sustainable future. For societies to operate within the earth’s biophysical limits while simultaneously fostering justice and well-being, sustainability transformations are required. Such fundamental changes of interactions and feedbacks are crucial for ensuring long-term sustainable systems. Research on sustainability transformations is based in diverse research areas that draw on different theories and methods for investigation. This heterogeneity results in multiple understandings of transformations. In a recent paper, Lam et al. (2020) examine literature on sustainability transformations to provide a typology of amplification processes applied by sustainability initiatives to increase their impact.

Lam et al. (2020) highlight, that urban as well as rural sustainability transformations may be best understood when considering them as place-based societal changes driven by local actors. Here, so called sustainability initiatives act as local solutions to sustainability problems with global relevance. These initiatives are often…

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Lost and Found: Uncovering Missing Feedbacks in a Coral Reef Social–Ecological System


Over the last decades, a continuous increase of economic, environmental and social connectivity occurred on a global level. While globalization facilitates human development, it can also conceal local developments. This, in turn, can have detrimental effects on the sustainability of local social–ecological systems: through a worldwide connection of social-ecological processes, feedbacks on the local level that indicate unsustainable use of resources can be weakened or lost. Dajka et al. (2020) suggest that in order to achieve a more sustainable future, feedbacks that underpin social–ecological trajectories have to be considered and managed. Using the example of Jamaican coral reefs, the authors demonstrate how the “red loop – green loop” concept can highlight missing feedbacks and help understand past, present and future sustainability in social-ecological settings.

Coral reefs are anlaysed as social-ecological systems by Dajka et al. (2020).

Social-ecological systems are characterized by complex interconnections and feedbacks. In a globalized world however…

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Cider-apple Farmers’ Perceptions and Knowledge of Biological Control


Agricultural production is reliant on regulating ecosystem services. One important yet underexplored regulating service is biological control, the reduction of one organism population by another one. While biological control can benefit agriculture in diverse ways, it is decreasing worldwide. In a recent study, Martínez-Sastre et al. (2020) used questionnaires to examine farmers’ perceptions and knowledge of the biodiversity underpinning biological control in cider-apple orchards in northern Spain.

Graphical abstract representing that those farmers with higher levels of local ecological knowledge and education are able to recognize more diversity of species that provide biological control than those who use insecticides and see farming as a leisure activity. (Martínez-Sastre et al. 2020, p.1).

Biological control refers to the process by which beneficial organisms, so-called natural enemies, reduce the occurrence of pest organisms without any human intervention. Here, high biodiversity of natural enemies is known to enhance biological control. However, as not all…

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Human-Nature Connectedness in Simplified Landscapes: Exploring Relational Values


From soy monocultures in the Amazon to palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia and agricultural intensification in Europe: landscape simplification is taking place all over the world. In a recently published paper, Riechers et al. (2020) argue that in addition to ecological degradation, the simplification of landscapes can also have detrimental effects on human-nature relationships. Using a landscape sustainability science framing, the paper explores interconnections between ecological and social changes taking place in rural landscapes. Here, the authors draw on the concept of relational values to provide a conceptual framework that hypothesizes ecological, social-ecological and social consequences resulting from landscape simplification.

Around the world, the face of agriculture is changing. Traditional agricultural landscapes commonly provide a balance of provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem services. In contrast, simplified agricultural landscapes largely supply the single provisioning service of crop production, meanwhile sacrificing other types of services and degrading ecological functions. By trading…

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