Policy maker

Team Meeting: Socio-Hydrology

"Towards Socio-hydrologic Synthesis: Modeling the Co-evolutionary Dynamics of Coupled Human, Water, & Ecological Systems" Pursuit meeting

This is a closed meeting for a funded synthesis group of visiting scholars.

The goal of the project is to build a new generation of generic conceptual models and “socio-hydrologic” modeling frameworks that transcend place-based complexity, and advance understanding of the dynamics and co-evolution of human, water, and eco-environmental systems.


July 29, 2014

Communications Coordinator

By now, we’ve all seen the before-and-after photo (above) illustrating what our grocery stores would look like if pollinators disappeared from our food system. Given our well-established intolerance of threats to our (pollinator-dependent) avocado supply (Guacapocalypse, anyone?), it was only a matter of time before the President himself would step in to help save the honeybees and hoverflies.

The White House recently issued a presidential memorandum establishing a federal task force to develop a strategy for reversing the declining populations of pollinators. In addition to ensuring the availability of our avocados, pollinators are important for a myriad of ecological and economic reasons—and are a perfect example of the interdependent socio-environmental systems on which SESYNC focuses. But pressures such as habitat loss and degradation, pesticides, and climate change threaten these busy workers and the ecosystem services they provide. In response, the President’s Pollinator Health Task Force is charged with focusing federal efforts to research, prevent, and recover from pollinator losses; to develop a public education campaign that teaches people about how they can help pollinators in their own communities; and to take specific measures to substantially expand pollinator habitat on federal lands, as well as build on federal efforts with public–private partnerships.

The memo establishes pollinator protection as a national priority: an important step in the right direction. And because the federal government owns a great deal of land (roughly 635–640 million acres), it has an opportunity to make a big impact through its management strategies for increasing and improving pollinator habitat on those lands.

The memo’s Pollinator Research Action Plan also opens the door for synthesis amongst the agencies and organizations already doing good work on pollinators. Many of the items identified in the memo’s Pollinator Research Action Plan are being studied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (including its Colony Collapse Disorder Steering Committee), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a number of state land grant institutions and non-profits, such as The Xerces Society and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. Dr. David Hawthorne, SESYNC’s Director of Education and Outreach and Associate Professor of Entomology at the University of Maryland, is hopeful that the federal task force will aggregate the information and perspectives from these diverse sources with those of the agencies tasked with creating the action plan to effectively synthesize both the ecological and the social information needed to develop an effective plan.

But does the memorandum go far enough? The pollinator crisis is a remarkably complex problem, shaped by different landscapes and plant communities; insect, bat, and bird populations; and numerous land uses and governmental jurisdictions. And although economic concerns are a prominent impetus for the memorandum, the engagement of social scientists appears lacking in the research plan.

“The plan could end up a traditional, natural science-oriented search for solutions and best practices,” says Hawthorne. “One thing that would make it stronger would be to include social science and governance expertise. How, for example, does improving pollinator habitat impact the utility of the land for the people who use it? If improved pollinator habitat is at odds with another designated land use, how does that conflict affect the vitality of the pollinator habitat over time?”

SESYNC’s Quantitative Programs Researcher Kelly Hondula notes that we don’t necessarily recognize negative impacts on pollinators or ecosystem services until it affects us personally—until we see, for example, either a sharp rise in avocado prices at the grocery store or their complete disappearance from produce displays.

“The point of understanding pollination as an ecosystem service that underlies the things we care about,” says Hondula, “is to prevent that price spike or product loss before it happens in the first place, because intervention is better, easier, and cheaper than trying to recover something after it’s lost.”

The social science perspective, therefore, would be important to an effective pollinator research and action plan because it would provide a context for valuation of trade-offs. The complexity of the pollinator crisis means there’s no single, silver bullet solution. Potential solutions should be evaluated within a socio-environmental framework to determine at what “costs” we are willing to save our pollinators … and our avocados.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to solving complex problems at the intersection of human and ecological systems.

Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

Seminar: Crisis in the Sahel: Building Evidence-Based Policies

The Sahel—the semi-arid zone stretching across sub-Saharan Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea—will see population growth by more than 250% by 2050. Child marriage and female genital cutting are widespread. Climatologists predict that this already hot area will become even hotter, greatly reducing crop yields. Around mid-century, more people than live in the USA could become ecological refugees.

Seminar: Neil Carter & Lorien Jasny

Navigating the Complexity of Human-Carnivore Coexistence with Agent-Based Models

Neil Carter’s research integrates ecological and human dimensions for conservation purposes. He conducted his master’s research at the University of Michigan, evaluating the drivers and spatial location of potential conflict “hot-spots” between black bears and people in Michigan.

Seminar: Andres Baeza & Harish Padmanabha

Early Warnings of Land Degradation as a Management Strategy in Coupled Semi-Desert & Pastoral Systems

Andres Baeza is broadly interested in understanding the dynamical consequences of the feedback that emerges in coupled human–natural systems that are under high environmental variability. Most of his research is conducted in semi-desert environments, where climate variability and human vulnerability are usually the highest. Dr.

Seminar: Elise Larsen & Safa Motesharrei

Butterfly Population Trends: Insights from Citizen Science

Elise Larsen is a quantitative ecologist interested in population and community dynamics in relation to disturbance and environmental change. Her research at SESYNC focuses on developing new tools for studying population dynamics and phenology in Lepidoptera, with an emphasis on climate impacts. This work as well as previous work involves collaboration with citizen science monitoring networks.

Seminar: Mary Collins & David Gill

Linking ‘Toxic Outliers’ to Environmental Justice Communities Across the United States

Mary Collins is an environmental sociologist interested in environmental inequality, a concept she defines broadly as the inequitable distribution of both environmental privileges and problems across social groups.

Seminar: The Values of Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Current understanding of traditional ecological knowledge depicts those bodies of knowledge as threatened and eroding, but—at the same time—as dynamic and adaptive. In this seminar, Dr. Victoria Reyes-García will analyze those apparent contradictions and explore the issue of the value of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) systems as the main cause of its endurance. To do so, she will first provide a brief review of the change of status of traditional ecological knowledge both in academia and international policy.

Seminar: What If "Rural" Were an Ethnicity & Protected Class?

What If "Rural" Were an Ethnicity & Protected Class?

There is no doubt that rural areas are different from urban and suburban areas. Federal programs aimed at improving medical care and education and targeted programs for rural development are some examples of recognition of marked differences between rural and urban areas.


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