Social adaptation can reduce the strength of social–ecological feedbacks from ecosystem degradation

Bartelet, Henry A., Barnes, Michele L., Zoeller, Kim C., and Cumming, Graeme S. (2022) Social adaptation can reduce the strength of social–ecological feedbacks from ecosystem degradation. People and Nature, 4 (4). pp. 856-865.

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Feedbacks between people and ecosystems are central to the study of social–ecological systems (SES) but remain poorly understood. It is commonly assumed that changes in ecosystems leading to a reduction in ecosystem services will trigger human responses that seek to restore service provision. Other responses are possible, however, but remain less studied.

We evaluated the effect of environmental change, specifically the degradation of coral reefs, on the supply of and demand for a cultural ecosystem service (CES); that is, recreation. We found that declines in coral cover reduced demand for recreational ecosystem services but had no apparent effect on the benefits received from recreation.

While this finding seems counter-intuitive given previous experimental data that suggest ecosystem quality affects people's satisfaction, our analysis suggests that social adaptation could have mediated the anticipated negative impact of environmental change on CES benefits. We propose four mechanisms that may explain this effect and that require further research: spatial diversification; (service) substitution; shifting baselines; and time-delayed effects.

Our findings emphasize the importance of human culture and perception as influences on human responses to environmental change, and the relevance of the more subjective elements of social systems for understanding social–ecological feedbacks.

Item ID: 73431
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2575-8314
Keywords: adaptation, climate change, coral reefs, cultural ecosystem services, social– ecological systems, sustainability, tourism
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Copyright Information: © 2022 The Authors. People and Nature published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2022 05:47
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4101 Climate change impacts and adaptation > 410103 Human impacts of climate change and human adaptation @ 100%
SEO Codes: 19 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATURAL HAZARDS > 1901 Adaptation to climate change > 190103 Social impacts of climate change and variability @ 100%
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