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Sustainability 2018, 10(8), 2950;

What do We Talk about When We Talk about Social-Ecological Systems? A Literature Review

Departament of Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution, Complutense University of Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain
Socio-Ecosystems Laboratory, Autonomous University of Madrid, 28049 Madrid, Spain
IFEVA, Faculty of Agronomy, University of Buenos Aires, C1417DSE Buenos Aires, Argentina
Department of Botany, Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, 51003 Tartu, Estonia
National Institute for Agricultural Technology (INTA), Bariloche & CONICET, 8400 San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
Life Sciences Department, Ecology, University of Alcalá, 28801 Alcalá de Henares, Spain
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 17 July 2018 / Revised: 11 August 2018 / Accepted: 16 August 2018 / Published: 20 August 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social-Ecological Systems. Facing Global Transformations)
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In the last decade, probably in response to global changes and the environmental crisis, the use of the term “social-ecological system” (SES) in scientific literature has grown. This is certainly a sign that the need and importance of transdisciplinary research has been recognized. Here, we explore whether the use of the term is a buzzword or, rather, actually represents a key concept in the integration of social and ecological research. We compiled a database of publications (N = 1289) that mentioned SES in the title, keywords and abstract. Subsequently, we analyzed the authors’ affiliations, type of work (conceptual, empirical or review), study site, prevailing human use, temporal and spatial scales of the analysis, kind of variables analyzed (socioeconomic or biophysical), and the method/s used to integrate them. We detected four time spans in the use of the term (1975–1997, 1998–2006, 2007–2012, 2013–2016). Our results suggest that SES is a widely invoked concept in the study of the interface between social and ecological systems. Most works show some common elements, such as the analysis of resilience, ecosystem services, sustainability, governance and adaptive management. However, the majority of studies do not study SES as a whole, integrating both social and ecological variables and their feedback loops. We consider SES as a concept still in construction in order to build a necessary framework for the integration of social and ecological sciences. For a robust evolution, we recommend that one focus on: (i) A conscious, discussed and agreed effort of scientists to conduct the transdisciplinary research needed to study SES; and (ii) the development of methodological tools for the true integration of social and ecological data. View Full-Text
Keywords: adaptation; complex adaptative systems; ecosystem services; governance; resilience; sustainability; transdisciplinary adaptation; complex adaptative systems; ecosystem services; governance; resilience; sustainability; transdisciplinary

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Herrero-Jáuregui, C.; Arnaiz-Schmitz, C.; Reyes, M.F.; Telesnicki, M.; Agramonte, I.; Easdale, M.H.; Schmitz, M.F.; Aguiar, M.; Gómez-Sal, A.; Montes, C. What do We Talk about When We Talk about Social-Ecological Systems? A Literature Review. Sustainability 2018, 10, 2950.

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