Socio-ecological systems and sustainability indicators 

Conservation challenges are most often set in complex systems where social, economic and ecological aspects interbed. We develop approaches that facilitate the synthesis of information from multiple disciplines at different scales and provide tools towards evidence-based sustainable decision-making. While in the past our focus has been on biodiversity indicators, with particular attention to climate change impacts, at present our goal is to develop more holistic indicators that address the three pilars of sustainability (economic, environmental and social), and their interaction. Under this research topic, we have global scale projects (e.g. indicators of pastoralism sustainability or methodological advances for synthesis indicators) as well as local projects (impacts of small scale gold mining on biodiversity and on local well being).

The process of developing good indicators is not trivial. Indicators should be able to synthesize and communicate our current knowledge, but they also need to meet both scientific and practical application criteria. We work at several ends, from identifying processes and patterns that require indicators, to evaluating the scientific strenghts of indicators, their relevance for decision making, and the challenges found in applications. In particular, and when developing indicators that are of importance for local and indigenous communities, we support indicators that are culturally relevant and that provide legitimate knowledge-in-use for community decision-making. Collaborative endeavors in this vein can support the identification of metrics that are culturally appropriate and attuned to both local needs and global priorities.

 Projects and Researchers

  • Pastoralism across temporal and spatial scales / Pablo Manzano Baena

We strive to define a holistic theory of pastoralism, studying pastoralism system transitions and their commonalities to identify practices that are sustainable. We work towards mapping pastoralism globally and developing a standard set of indicators to monitor pastoralism sustainability in environmental, social and economic dimensions.

  • Artisanal and small scale gold mining as a conservation challenge in Madagascar / Marketta Vuola, MAr Cabeza

We seek to understand the interaction between conservation and mining. While our goal is to highlight the impacts of mining on biodiversity, and how conservation can confront the mining sector, both mining and conservation can be viewed as commodity frontiers that have large impact on local communities. We aim at understanding local agency and power dynamics from the perspective of political ecology and environmental justice discourses and look for schemes that may benefit both local communities as well as biodiversity.

  • Methodological approaches in indicator development / Sara Fraixedas and Mar Cabeza

We are interested in covering methodological and application gaps in biodiversity indicators in particular. While important methdological advances are taking place, not all indicators are robust enough and their application shows strong spatial, habitat and temporal (seasonal) biases. We focus on developing approaches for the selection of sites and species that increase indicator robustness, on ways to communicate indicator uncertainty, and on methods for incorporating and calibrating expert assessments.

Key references 

  • Cabeza, M., Terraube, J., Burgas, D., Temba, E. M. and Rakoarijaoana, M. 2019.  Gold is not green: artisanal gold mining threatens Ranomafana National Park's biodiversity. Animal Conservation. 22 (5), 417-419 doi: 10.1111/acv.12475
  • Conenna, I., Rocha, R., Russo, D., Cabeza, M. 2017. Insular bats and research effort: a review of global patterns and priorities. Mammal Review 47: 169–182. 
  • Fraixedas, S., Galewski, T., Ribeiro-Lopes, S., Loh, J., Blondel, J., Fontès, H., Grillas, P., Lambret, P., Nicolas, D., Olivier, A., Geijzendorffer, I.R. 2019. Estimating biodiversity changes in the Camargue wetlands: an expert knowledge approach. PLoS ONE 14(10): e0224235.
  • Fraixedas, S., Lindén, A., Piha, M., Cabeza, M., Gregory, R., Lehikoinen, A. 2020. A state-of-the-art review on birds as indicators of biodiversity: advances, challenges, and future directions. Ecological Indicators (in press). doi: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2020.106728