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A Matter of Scaling Social-Ecological Systems in the Anthropocene

Modeling as a tool to shape global and local challenges

Janosch Birkert, Caterina Brandmayr, Lukas Drees (ISOE - Institute for Social-Ecological Research, Frankfurt a.M.)

The SES in the Anthropocene


Nature can no longer be viewed

independently of society

SES on a global scale enable the development of

scenarios that can be integrated on a local level.
This in turn permits the formulation of
recommendations relevant to the global

nor can society be viewed

independently of nature
1 Hummel, D., T. Jahn and E. Schramm (2011): Social-Ecological Analysis of Climate Induced Changes in

Biodiversity, Outline of a Research Concept. BiK-F Knowledge Flow Paper Nr. 11. Frankfurt am Main

2 Liehr, S., J. Rhrig, M. Mehring and T. Kluge (2014): Addressing water challenges in central-northern

Namibia: How the social-ecological system concept can guide research and implementation. Ecology and
Society (submitted).
3 Beck, U. (1986): Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am
Main , p. 107 (own translation).

regulation impacts
effects & impacts

Modified from Hummel et al. 2011 and Liehr et al. (submitted)



focus of analysis: local interventions

While SES have generally been developed at the

Development approach, we suggest that they
can also be translated at the global level to
account for the Anthropocene perspective.


SES models describe and structure a problem

situation (heuristic function), as well as define
the relevant parameters and interrelations and
contribute to the development of research
questions (analytical function).1

perspective: anthropocene

Their interaction is determined by contextual

hybrid factors such as practices, knowledge,
technology and institutions1.

perspective: sustainable development

Actors and ecosystem functions are core

components of the SES. Actors are persons and
groups influencing management and ecosystem
functions by their actions and are in turn
affected by changes in ecosystems services.2

focus of analysis: global regulations

Social-Ecological Systems (SES) permit the

formalised description and structuring of
societal relations to nature.1

in space and in time

Operational Models
Operational models translate the conceptual SES into a computable format.
Purposes of operational models:
to act as decision-support-systems to evaluate
to provide understanding of complex systems
to identify patterns of behaviour and
different management measures
to act as an integration tool that brings together
to enable forecasting and scenario evaluation
different knowledge and data sources

System Dynamics SD

Local Example

Bayesian Belief Networks


Agent-based Models

Global Example



Due to its symmetric structure, SES are
able to capture research questions that
focus more on the actors state (e.g.
supply systems) as well as on the state of
ecosystem functions (e.g. biodiversity).
The project micle aims to analyze the social-ecological conditions for
migration in the Sahelian countries Mali and Senegal. The SES structures the
research focus and depicts migration within the context of supply systems.

Transdisciplinary research requires an

iterative analysis at both global and local

operational model

operational model

1. By downscaling global SES to the local

level, important drivers of change can
be identified and used to adjust the
global model.

Meadows et al. World Model 34 (based on the world model from the Club of
Romes The Limits to Growth) depicts the main global interactions within
the system boundaries. The SES is a reconstruction of the world models

2. While the Anthropocene analysis

demands interventions that can only
be implemented on a local level (but
might nevertheless have effects at a
global scale), the local situation will in
turn be affected by regulations
negotiated at a global level.
BBNs are used to integrate the collected socio-empirical and natural scientific
data. As a diagnostic tool, they help to assess the interdependencies of socioeconomic (red nodes) and ecological conditions (green nodes) with regard to
their influence on motives for migration (blue nodes) and the spatial and
temporal migration patterns (pale nodes).
The integration of scenarios helps to estimate possible future changes and to
derive measures and policies.

The formalization of SES in operational

models helps to identify new factors and
relevant interactions and to detect gaps of
knowledge as well as gaps of action.

The world model was developed based on a system dynamic modeling

approach and it includes a number of global, key development aspects such
as arable land, pollution, population growth, etc.
The model was implemented for scenario forecasting and it highlighted the
need for both global regulation and local interventions. The figure above
shows only a section of the whole model.
4 Meadows, D., J. Randers and D. Meadows (2004): Limits to growth: the 30-year update. Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont.