Working with uncertainties: The future of integrating agriculture and biodiversity in the Muttama Creek Catchment Area, Australia.


The landscape of the Muttama Creek Catchment area (photo credit: Tamara Schaal)

As land-use change and agricultural intensification are key drivers of today’s biodiversity crisis, farmers are increasingly asked to display how they protect the natural environment on their farms, for example by consumers or financiers. There is also an ongoing discussion in academic circles about the best solution to protecting biodiversity in agriculture. The future of agricultural landscapes cannot be predicted with certainty, as farming systems are complex and multiple factors can have sudden or long-term influences. The Muttama Creek Catchment area (MCCA) is in many respects a typical agricultural landscape in south-eastern Australia: a mosaic of wheat and canola fields, eucalypts, paddocks, and flocks of sheep or cattle. However, agricultural developments in the past not only led to increases in productivity and output but also to growing pressures on the landscape such as soil loss, salinity or acidity…

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Learning to turn tables – Operationalizing the leverage points perspective for empirical research


Besides many efforts to turn the tables on our planet’s path to more sustainability, the deep transformation needed in social-ecological systems so far is still missing. As mostly short-term solutions have been implemented, underlying drivers of unsustainable trajectories stay undetected. Recently, a leverage points perspective (LPP) has come more into focus as a possible approach to tackle deep transformation by combining it with other system approaches. Leverage points are known as places of intervention in complex social-ecological systems that enable change. They are separated into fundamental/deep leverage points like the design and intent of a system with more power to change, or superficial/shallow leverage points like parameters and feedbacks with little capability of system change. This distinction permits to assess the potential impact an intervention can have on a system’s condition.
In their new paper, Riechers et al. (2022) develop a process for operationalizing the leverage points perspective in empirical…

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With flying colors: New study assesses how different land-use types relate to butterfly diversity


The very hungry caterpillar needs food and shelter – and depending on its life-history traits, its requirements can be either decidedly specific or just as generic as the children’s book illustrates: A new study by Wurz et al. (2022) draws off this vast diversity and uses butterflies as a model taxon to assess effects of land-use change on biodiversity in Madagascar. Butterflies demonstrate a complex life cycle, often with host plant specialization during the larval stages, and may respond differently to habitat changes. The higher their habitat specialization, the more likely they are to face extinction when confronted with land-use changes. In Madagascar, landscapes are highly fragmented due to forest areas being turned into agricultural land. Here, agroforestry is advocated as a profitable and biodiversity-friendly land-use choice, allowing possible habitats for a variety of butterfly species.

Wurz et al. assess butterfly assemblages in woody land-use types (forest fragments, forest-derived vanilla…

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Fresh fodder for future findings: Mapping plural values of grasslands and their ecosystem services


So far, ecosystem service research in grasslands has mainly focused on provisioning services and their economic values; however, calls for plural valuation have become more prominent in recent times. In fact, the inclusion of instrumental, relational and intrinsic values in an assessment of ecosystem services can reveal further reasons by which people express the importance of nature and their ecosystem services. In their paper, Schmitt et al. (2022) analyze the spatial distribution of these values in grasslands.

While instrumental values reflect direct and indirect benefits people can obtain from ecosystem services, intrinsic values represent the ethical rights of nature. In this study, the authors chose to examine ‘subjective’ intrinsic value, which accounts for the idea that humans can express regard for nature regardless of any potential human interest. Moreover, they explored relational values that represent the manifold relationship humans have with nature or human relations fostered by nature. To account…

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Bring on tomorrow: A new way of looking into the future of ecosystem services in southwestern Ethiopia


While science can do much, its chance to travel into the future is still severely limited. By applying old methods in a new way, Jiren et al. (2022) may have circumvented this issue. Scenario planning, stakeholder analysis and space-for-time substitution may all be well-used methods in various research fields, but employed together they open up new research opportunities: While both scenario planning and stakeholder analysis have been widely used in environmental management research, space-for-time substitution is usually used in landscape ecology and has been rarely applied in the social sciences. By using this combination, Jiren et al. show how multi-level stakeholder constellations, interests and influences on ecosystem services (ES) in a southwestern Ethiopian landscape might change in different future scenarios of landscape change.

A landscape in southwestern Ethiopia. Photo credit: Girma Shumi.

To map stakeholders’ interests and influences, the authors focus on smallholder farming landscapes sensitive to rapid social-ecological changes…

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


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?


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


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?


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


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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