CAREER: Local Context and the Dynamics of Social-Ecological Systems: Beyond One-Size-Fits-All Solutions to Environmental Problems

The world is presently experiencing a period of dramatic social and economic change. We are also experiencing rapid change in earth systems that support human societies. The goal of this project was to develop tools and ideas to help understand how we may cope with this change. Specifically, the project has focused on two areas in particular: 1) developing the data capacity to study many small-scale agricultural, fishery, and forestry systems that feed half of the worlds population and 2) developing mathematical tools to understand how these systems will function in the face of social, economic, and biophysical change in the future. 

Consistent with these focus areas, the project has produced three key outcomes: 1) A systematic database containing qualitative descriptions of agricultural, fishery, and forestry systems from around the world, 2) A database of models that can be used to systematically study the general features of these systems, especially their capacity to cope with change, and 3) tools for model visualization. The databases and tools are openly available to researchers, students, and the public and are located at The information contained in the database facilities collaborative research among a community of scholars on the central issues facing small-holder agriculturalists, fishers, and forest users that face new market pressures and changing weather patterns. This collaborative research aims to produce new knowledge regarding how to effectively govern these systems in the face of change so that they may continue to produce essential products including food, fiber, and protein for billions of people. 

As a CAREER award, the project focused on developing infrastructure for an integrated teaching and research program. Project outputs involving the database as described above and associated curriculum and teaching materials will make significant contributions to the interdisciplinary teaching program at ASU, especially regarding mathematics. Given the complexity of modern human economic and social systems and the complexity of the challenges they face, mathematical competency will become increasingly important in the future. The cyberinfrastructure and knowledge base created by this project will contribute considerably to developing mathematical competency by providing a platform for students to learn advanced mathematical techniques in the context of important problems situated at the intersection of natural and social sciences. Thus, the project outputs generate broader impacts in terms of helping improve global food security in the face of global change and provide additional opportunities for students to develop much needed mathematical competencies.

Organizational partners

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Project members

J. M. Anderies

Principal investigator

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Armando Antonio Rodriguez

Co-Principal investigator

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Marco Janssen

Co-Principal investigator

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Charles Perring

Co-Principal investigator

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Ann Kinzig

Co-Principal investigator

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Elinor Ostrom


Project period 2007-2013


Publications produced as a result of this research

Anderies, JM; Janssen, MA. “The fragility of robust social-ecological systems,” GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE-HUMAN AND POLICY DIMENSIONS, v.21, 2011, p. 1153. 

Schoon, M; Fabricius, C; Anderies, JM; Nelson, M. “Synthesis: Vulnerability, Traps, and Transformations-Long-term Perspectives from Archaeology,” ECOLOGY AND SOCIETY, v.16, 2011. 

Muneepeerakul, Rachata; Qubbaj, Murad R.; Aggarwal, Rimjhim M.; Anderies, John M.; Janssen, Marco A.. “Critical transition between cohesive and population-dividing responses to change,” JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY INTERFACE, v.9, 2012, p. 3303-3311.

Anderies, J. M., C. Folke, B. Walker, and E. Ostrom.. “Aligning key concepts for global change policy: robustness, resilience, and sustainability,” Ecology and Society, v.18, 2013, p. 8.