Scenarios of Future Landscape Change

Final Report (Required, .pdf format only) : 
David Foster
Steve Carpenter
Nancy Grimm

Vulnerability and Resilience of American Landscapes to Global Change

Rationale and Research Questions: Science to understand, anticipate and adapt to global change, including land use and climate change, is driving new integration among disciplines. Overarching questions include (1) How will global change alter the futures of regional social-ecological systems? (2) How and why do regional social-ecological systems differ in vulnerability, resilience and adaptability to global change? Such questions cannot be addressed by discipline-bound thinking, require new approaches, and must be answered through broad-scale comparative investigations of dissimilar systems. Scenario thinking is among the most promising approaches to emerge. Scenarios begin as suites of qualitative narratives—developed by regional stakeholders including social and ecological scientists—that describe an envelope of plausible futures based on contrasting assumptions. The narratives inform and are, in turn, informed by integrated spatial models of socio-ecological change (e.g. agent-based models or linked land change, econometric, and ecosystem process models). This approach for coupling qualitative and quantitative scenarios has informed prescient planning and policy and generated a rich set of fundamental research questions.

The overarching questions evoke a host of specific questions, including: (1) How does the connectivity of social and ecological systems change over time and space, and what are the consequences of connection strength for change? (2) Are social-ecosystems more vulnerable or resilient to press versus pulse disturbances, and does this response vary across ecosystem types? Do human societies display greater adaptability to press versus pulse disturbances? (3) What ecological and social factors affect the characteristics of thresholds where cumulative small effects trigger large changes in system? (4) What are the unintended consequences of optimizing particular structures or processes of social-ecological systems? (5) How are adaptive behaviors, perceptions of risk, and decision making influenced by policies and institutions, and what is the potential for those institutions to influence resilience of social-ecological systems? Addressing these questions using a scenario framework is an effective way to achieve the research goals set out by the ISSE, which, until now, have been lacking a cogent protocol.

To advance a broad comparative analysis of these critical questions requires an integrated network of sites distributed across a contrasting array of physical, biological and cultural environments and characterized by extraordinary ability to collect, analyze, and synthesize diverse data. The core strengths of the LTER network—its history of long-term, place-based studies, its commitment to integrative research across disciplines, and its diversity of landscapes, stakeholders, and disturbance regimes—make it ideally suited to address these questions. Accordingly, we propose a network of scenario analyses to address and expand theories of social-ecological change, vulnerability, resilience and adaptability. The proposed activity would operate through two simultaneous coupled activities: (1) the production of qualitative, stakeholder-driven narratives at all participating sites and (2) quantitative socio-ecological landscape-change modeling across a focused set of site clusters to address the consequences of land use/urbanization and environmental change on critical ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration, water availability and regional to national habitat quality and continuity. The integrated modeling would engage and contrast results across clusters of sites that share common problem space (e.g., similar biomes, land use issues, stakeholder groups, etc.) and would complement existing regional efforts.

Session Info

Working Group Session 5

Wed, 09/16/2009 - 10:00am - 12:00pm
Longs Peak Granite Pass