Special Issue Editorial: How can human-nature connectedness be a leverage point for sustainability transformation?


As is becoming abundantly clear, early climate-change warnings have not been effective, as the planet continues on its unsustainable pathway, crossing planetary boundaries and racing towards a sixth mass extinction. Despite the existence of many international agreements and goals being made, more diverse interventions are needed. Therefore, by approaching this sustainability problem through a systems perspective, more effective solutions might be found to adapt and transform whole systems. The current Special Issue: Human-Nature Connectedness as Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation is now out in the Journal Ecosystem & People. The Editorial of this special issue (Riechers et al. 2021) aims to present an overview of the inspiring articles published to show new ways of re-connecting humans to nature (see Fig. 1).

For example, Raatikainen et al. (2020) maintain that reconnecting to nature has the potential to reveal deep leverage points that could transform our current, unsustainable system. Bieling et…

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How can nature-based solutions foster transformative change? Assessing the potential for change in mountain environments.


In order to meet global sustainability targets, it is becoming increasingly obvious that profound and fundamental changes are needed. This transformative change is necessary to meet biodiversity targets, therefore a reframing of social-ecological relationships could be useful, especially by considering nature-based solutions to sustainability problems. Nature-based solutions could influence science and policy, and foster transformative change for sustainability outcomes. Therefore Palomo et al. (2021) sought to fill this research gap and create a framework linking these concepts.

Researchers taking part in the TRANSMOUNT workshop. (Photographed by Ignacio Palomo, 2021)

The authors produced a framework to determine which elements of nature-based solutions could enable transformative change, how it could occur and what the outcomes might be. Palomo et al. (2021) assessed nature-based solutions in mountain regions to exemplify the functionality of this framework, due to mountain ecosystems being highly vulnerable to climate change and supplying key services to upland and lowland…

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How effective are protected areas? Integrating conservation and development in the Global South.


Globally, biodiversity is in a rapid and catastrophic decline and in efforts to protect this from climate change and land degradation, protected areas have often been seen as a solution. In many regions, they are essential to maintaining biodiversity, but are also contested spaces, which can create negative social effects and limit ecological effectiveness. Tensions within the fields of conservation and development in regard to protected areas exist, and the divergence of these fields is a recent consequence, especially in the Global South. Loos (2021) therefore explored the areas of conflict within these fields and suggested reconciliation strategies to improve protected area effectiveness.

Loos (2021) outlined that while protected areas are flawed, they also represent a great opportunity to align development with conservation goals. These flaws are seen especially in the Global South, through continuing deforestation, natural resource overexploitation, land degradation and poaching. Protected areas might fail their ecological goals…

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How important are grassland ecosystem services? Exploring differences in citizen and farmer perspectives in Southern Bavaria.


Grasslands cover one third of the Earth’s terrestrial surface and provide biodiversity, disaster risk, socio-cultural and economic services to humans, yet their ecosystem service contributions are vastly understudied in research. Understanding how ecosystem services are valued by people, and especially where differences and conflicts lie, is important for creating effective management strategies that benefit multiple stakeholders. To fill this research gap, Schmitt et al. (2021) researched ecosystem service perceptions by citizens and farmers in Bavarian pre- and- Alpine grasslands to better pinpoint areas of potential conflict, mismatch and agreement.

Schmitt et al. (2021) explored citizen perceptions and management of grasslands by examining the perceived suitability of grassland ecosystem services by citizens, along with the importance assigned to these ecosystem services by farmers in management strategies. The authors conducted surveys with citizens and farmers in Alpine and foothill grasslands under different management styles in southern Bavaria, Germany (see Figure 1).


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Fishing, Tourism, and Social-Ecological Vulnerability: How can Spanish coastal systems become more resilient?


Coastal marine systems are some of the most biodiverse and productive planetary systems and provide significant ecosystem services that directly support fishing and tourism industries. However, the industries themselves, in combination with other human activities, are increasing the vulnerability of these systems. In order to contribute to a better understanding of just how vulnerable these systems are, Lazzari et al. (2021) researched the stressors, capacity for survival, and social-ecological dimensions affecting temperate coastal systems in Spain.

Marine Biodiversity, Fuerteventura (Photograph: Natali Lazzari)

The authors implemented the Social-Ecological Vulnerability (SEV) framework to assess the vulnerability of 5 marine ecoregions along the Spanish coastal system. Often these vulnerabilities arose from the overexploitation of coastal systems by fisheries, urbanisation, tourism, and climate change, which have led to them being the most degraded habitat in Spain. Lazzari et al. (2021) determined the system capacity to cope with pressures, through the mapping of hotspots of…

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Landscape simplification in Lower Saxony: How does it affect human-nature connectedness and relational values?


Landscape simplification, both globally and locally, has vast impacts on biodiversity. Increasing literature on biodiversity impacts has thrown into the spotlight how biodiversity and ecosystems are affected by landscape simplification, especially through the loss of material and immaterial ecosystem services. Less research has been done on how these changes affect how humans value and use these landscapes, therefore Riechers et al. (2021) analysed the relationship between human-nature connectedness, relational values, and landscape simplification in Lower Saxony.

The authors empirically researched the effects of landscape simplification on different dimensions of human-nature connectedness, such as material, experiential, emotional, cognitive, and philosophical connectedness. To also include the human-human connections mediated by nature, the authors included findings on how human-nature connectedness is linked to relational values.

The authors found that especially rapid landscape simplification could negatively affect human-nature connectedness and relational values, especially social relations, social cohesion and cultural identity. Declining human-nature connectedness could…

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How does fire affect butterfly and plant diversity in South African shrublands?


In order to effectively manage endangered natural habitats, natural disturbances must be considered, especially when these natural habitats are biodiversity hotspots and key for species survival. Therefore, understanding the effects of natural disturbances such as fire regimes in the South African renosterveld shrubland is important for maintaining habitat quality. Topp et al. (2021) therefore investigated the ways in which fire and landscape context can affect both plant and butterfly diversity within this endangered renosterveld, a biodiversity hotspot in Swartland, Western Cape (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. (a) Koringberg, one of the larger renosterveld study fragments in the Swartland region, with both recently burned (3years prior to study, light green young growth, left hand side of photograph) and unburned (more than 30years since last fire, dark green woody vegetation, in foreground and on right hand side of photograph) patches. (b) The lower east‐facing slope of Contreberg which has not burned…

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Systems Change not Climate Change… but how?

A post by Julia Leventon on leverage points — see the special issue for more information!


Last week I published an editorial, attached to a special issue in Sustainability Science on the topic of Leverage Points for sustainability transformations (available mainly as open access here). In it, we raise nine questions for working with leverage points and systems change. For those already engaged with systems thinking, and the topic of leverage points, this special issue has been (I quote) “really helpful”, “perspective changing”, and “inspirational”.

But what if you aren’t already thinking in leverage points? I asked some (non-academic) family and friends. The special issue is (I quote) “thought provoking” but also “abstract”. A fair comment. Except… as researchers on topics of sustainability, we rather hope to produce work that helps to solve sustainability problems. So here is how I think our editorial contributes to solving problems.

Systems are everywhere!

When we hear about systems outside of the academic ivory towers, It is typically…

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Ecosystem Service Mapping and Species-Based Ecosystem Services. Are we ignoring a crucial aspect of ecosystem services and biodiversity?


Ecosystem functions and services are paramount to survival, and comprehensive spatial assessments thereof are required in order to promote conservation and ecosystem management. To quantify ecosystem service supply, species-based providers or biophysical providers are used by researchers, although biophysical providers are most often investigated in large-scale, multi-service assessments through high quality mapping and remote sensing. Species-based ecosystem service providers are not represented as often, although these contribute greatly human wellbeing. To fill this knowledge gap, Ceausu et al. (2021) calculated the distributions to understand individual species’ relative importance to the supply of ecosystem services.

Fig. 1.Weighted provider richness for species-based services at 50×50km resolution. The color categories display quantiles (Ceausu et al. 2021).

Fig. 2.Spatial distribution of biophysical services at 50×50km resolution. The color categories display quantiles (Ceausu et al. 2021).

Ceausu et al. (2021) calculated the indicator for species provider richness weighted by functional efficiency for 9 species-based ecosystem…

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Confronting Grief and Finding Hope in the Future of Conservation.


Biodiversity conservation can be a difficult topic to study when catastrophic projections and bad news is ever-present, combined with the intense urgency to act. Soulé (1985) referred to it as a ‘crisis discipline’, while terms such as ‘eco-anxiety’ and ‘ecological grief’ are gaining popularity and relevance. Fischer and Riechers (2021) therefore try to understand how conservation professionals can change their inner worlds and perspectives, in order to confront feelings of grief, and channel these to more empowering and hopeful visions of the future.

Fischer and Riechers (2021) were inspired by and reflected on the works of Michael Soulé, and presented this paper to incite conversations and focus on themes relating to compassion, interrelatedness, impermanence and normativity in conservation.

The authors focussed on centering compassion in order to reduce scapegoating and blame games. Often, our own research comes from a place of life-affirmation, and the authors highlighted that by understanding differences…

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