Missing ecology: integrating ecological perspectives with the social-ecological system framework

Graham Epstein, Jessica M Vogt, Sarah K Mincey, Michael Cox, Burney Fischer


The social-ecological systems framework was designed to provide a common research tool for interdisciplinary investigations of social-ecological systems. However, its origin in institutional studies of the commons belies its interdisciplinary ambitions and highlights its relatively limited attention to ecology and natural scientific knowledge. This paper considers the biophysical components of the framework and its epistemological foundations as it relates to the incorporation of knowledge from the natural sciences. It finds that the mixture of inductive and deductive reasoning associated with socially-oriented investigations of these systems is lacking on the ecological side, which relies upon induction alone. As a result the paper proposes the addition of a seventh core sub-system to the social-ecological systems framework, ecological rules, which would allow scholars to explicitly incorporate knowledge from the natural sciences for deductive reasoning. The paper shows, through an instructive case study, how the addition of ecological rules can provide a more nuanced description of the factors that contribute to outcomes in social-ecological systems.


Commons; ecology; social-ecological systems; sustainability

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