Student-led Project

Measuring consequences of ecosystem service change for human wellbeing

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In this dissertation, social-ecological systems (SES) insights and frameworks were adopted as a lens of analysis to explore possible improvements in the monitoring of sustainable development. Specific advances in SES theory were applied to contribute to the development of knowledge, methods and evidence in harnessing the potential of social-ecological systems theory and approaches to improve monitoring of progress towards sustainability. This was achieved through a focus on three key objectives: (1) Develop a set of social-ecological indicators of ecosystem services and explore the possibility of using existing datasets to track trends in these indicators at global and national scales, (2) Explore how patterns of ecosystem service dependence are linked to the characteristics of particular socio-economic groups in South Africa and (3) Explore how key theoretical characteristics of SES can be used to improve measuring and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The dissertation provides cross cutting insights and challenges on the use of SES theory for monitoring sustainability highlighting the opportunities for research and practice. The dissertation emphasises the importance and potential of social-ecological interactions in ecosystem service indicators, and the role of SES theory in identifying key features for measurement, as well as adaptively learning what is important to measure. It ends with a reflection on the role of monitoring in achieving sustainability, clarifying the role of indicators for not only monitoring change, but as important tools for learning, adaptive management and improvements in sustainable development. Recognising that social-ecological systems are constantly in flux, indicators which support learning and reflection are key to adaptively managing these systems.

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