Human beings and nature have been closely interconnected throughout history; they constitute a joint “social-ecological system”. Population growth, advances in technology, and urbanization are profoundly changing these systems around the globe.
Researchers at the Universities of Cape Town, Kassel, and Göttingen have developed a modelling framework for comparing the causes and consequences of these processes at different scales worldwide. The results have been published as a cover story in the scientific journal Nature.
For centuries, agrarian societies had to use their immediate surroundings in a manner that would ensure maximum sustainability because their very survival depended on it. However, urbanization and industrializa-tion have fundamentally changed the relationship between human beings and nature.
These changes are becoming increasingly significant as population and economic growth continue and accelerate worldwide. According to the team of authors, “new regulations and institutions are necessary in order to avoid overex-ploitation of natural resources.”
The framework that the authors propose can be used to compare social-ecological systems at various scales, such as individual households, land use systems, cities or entire nations. As long as sustainable use of an ecosystem stabilizes the social system and vice versa, this state is called a "loop".
In contrast, a "trap" is characterized by overexploitation and progressive degradation of the ecosystem, which can ultimately lead to the collapse of social order. In addition, the researchers distinguish between rural systems (green loop / green trap) and urban systems (red loop / red trap).
The authors use three case studies to illustrate this modelling framework: There is a wealth of data on agri-cultural and economic development in Sweden over the past 250 years, which provide evidence of a suc-cessful transition from a green loop to a red loop – in other words, from a balanced rural system to a bal-anced urban one.
In Niger, a country which at the start of the 1960s still relied on rural agro-pastoralism and displayed characteristics of a green loop, population growth and urbanization are increasingly leading to a green trap. In the greater Beijing area, in recent decades one of the most rapidly expanding agglomerations worldwide, there are indications of an ecological crisis that could turn the city from a red loop into a red trap unless corrective action is taken soon.
“To understand changes in social-ecological systems we need to develop interdisciplinary theories of inter-dependent ecological and social processes,” the researchers explain. “Only with such theories will we be able to recognize decisive changes in time and intervene in a manner that is ecologically sustainable and socially just in the long term.”
The English-language magazine Nature is one of the world’s most highly regarded scientific journals.
Original publication: Graeme S. Cumming, Andreas Buerkert, Ellen M. Hoffmann, Eva Schlecht, Stephan von Cramon-Taubadel and Teja Tscharntke. Implications of agricultural transitions and urbanization for ecosystem services. Nature 2014. DOI: 10.1038/nature13945.
Prof. Dr. Andreas Bürkert
Steinstraße 19, 37213 Witzenhausen,
Telefon (05542) 98-1228 oder -1251
Prof. Dr. Stephan von Cramon-Taubadel
Department für Agrarökonomie und Rurale Entwicklung
Lehrstuhl für Agrarpolitik
Platz der Göttinger Sieben 5
37073 Göttingen, Telefon (0551) 39-22872
Sebastian Mense | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
How much drought can a forest take?
20.01.2017 | University of California - Davis
Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product
02.12.2016 | Purdue University
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences