Modelling how people and nature are intertwined

11 July 2019

Willemen, Louise; Drakou, Evangelia; Schwarz, Nina

The state of nature is driving human activities, while human activities change the state of nature. These social-ecological interactions have existed for millennia. Now in the Anthropocene -the acclaimed geological era in which human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment- many social-ecological systems are under pressure.
Social-ecological systems are often studied and managed separately. However, approaches that integrate these two systems are necessary to address complex interconnections and identify effective solutions to sustainability challenges. Here, models can help us untangle and understand key processes in a virtual laboratory. The modelling community has a long history in describing human-nature relations through models, but has so far mostly focused on one-way relations (i.e. A impacts B), without taking two-way feedback interactions into account (i.e. A impacts B while B impacts A).
Synes et al (2019) explore in their recent study the feasibility and utility of coupling models to reflect feedback interactions between land use and ecosystem service supply. The authors simulated farmer decision making and pollinator responses by coupling two agent-based models. In this News and Views, we provide our perspective on how such coupled modelling efforts provide an important contribution to understanding dynamics within social-ecological systems and ultimately towards a better management of these.

Doi
10.1111/ecog.04747