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Title: Advancing the integration of ecosystem services and livelihood adaptation

Around the world today, the magnitude and rates of environmental, social, and economic change are undermining the sustainability of many rural societies that rely directly on natural resources for their livelihoods. Sustainable development efforts seek to promote livelihood adaptations that enhance food security and reduce social-ecological vulnerability, but these efforts are hampered by the difficulty of understanding the complexity and dynamism of rural livelihood systems. Disparate research avenues are strengthening our ability to grapple with complexity. But we are only just beginning to find ways to simultaneously account for problematic complexities, including multiscalar feedbacks in the ecosystems that that support livelihoods, the heterogeneous benefits garnered by different segments of society, and the complex contingencies that constrain people’s decisions and capacities to adapt. To provide a more nuanced analysis of the dynamics of transformation in rural livelihood systems, we identified key complementarities between four different research approaches, enabling us to integrate them in a novel research framework that can guide empirical and modeling research on livelihood adaptation. The framework capitalizes upon parallel concepts of sequentiality in (1) ecosystem services and (2) livelihood adaptation scholarship, then incorporates principles from (3) adaptation in social-ecological systems research to account for the dynamism inherent more » in these often rapidly-transforming systems. Lastly, we include advances in (4) agent-based modeling, which couples human decisions and land use change and provides tools to incorporate complex social-ecological feedbacks in simulation studies of livelihood adaptation. Here we describe the new Ecosystem Services—Livelihood Adaptation (ESLA) framework, explain how it links the contributing approaches, and illustrate its application with two case studies. We offer guidance for its implementation in empirical and modeling research, and conclude with a discussion of current challenges in sustainability science and the contributions that could be gained through research guided by the ESLA framework.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Environmental Research Letters
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Article No. 124057
IOP Publishing
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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