List of Illustrations


1 The Challenge of Human–environment Interactions Research

The Evolution of Social Ecological Systems1

Characterization of Contemporary Global Environmental Changes3

History of the Development of the Human Dimensions Agenda4

Characteristics of the Research on the Human Dimensions

The Way Forward: Integrative Science

2 Theories and Concepts from the Social Sciences

Population, Technology, and Central Place Theories1

Population and Environment Theories

Agency and History

Decision-theoretic Approaches

Political Economy and Political Ecology

Cultural Ecology

3 Theories and Concepts from the Biological Sciences1

Evolution by Natural Selection

Species Respond Individualistically, Not as Communities

Interactions with Other Species: Niche and Neutral Theories

Top-down vs. Bottom-up Control in Ecosystems


Island Biogeography

Equilibrium and Nonequilibrium Theories

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Processes/Services

The Ecosystem Concept in Biology and the Social Sciences2

4 Spatially Explicit Approaches

Remote Sensing and GIS

A Case Study Using GIS/Remote Sensing to Study Amazonian Deforestation

Urban–rural Spatial Dynamics

Modeling and GIS

5 Multi-scale and Multi-temporal Analysis

An Approach to Multidisciplinary, Multi-scale Research


Local Level of Analysis

Regional Level of Analysis

Global Level of Analysis

Future Directions

6 Biocomplexity in Ecological Systems


Spatially Explicit Processes in Ecological and Social Systems

Agent-based Modeling of Complex Systems

Hierarchical Modeling


7 Environmental Decision Making1

Institutional Analysis

Individual Behavior and Environmental Decisions

Decisions and Social Context


8 Towards Sustainability Science

Sustainability Science Research Priorities

Scales of Sustainability

Cities and Sustainability Science

Climate Change and Sustainability



Color Plates




Elinor Ostrom, Eduardo Brondízio, and Leah vanWey

For their friendship and scholarly partnership with me over many years

List of Illustrations


1.1Rate of increase in several spheres of human activity for the past 300 years
1.2Rates of increase in several spheres of the earth system
1.3Vostock Ice Core Record
2.1The demographic transition
2.2Trends in total fertility rate (1950–2000)
3.1Theories proposed to account for successional dynamics, following disturbance
3.2General causes of succession and contributing processes and modifying factors
3.3Diagram illustrating Forest Transition Theory
4.1Researcher taking a GPS reading in the field, Brazilian Amazonia
4.2Classic map from Snow, illustrating the spatial location of cholera cases in London, 1854
4.3Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 1978 to 2007
4.4Crop choice is affected by soil quality
5.1Comparison of the spatial, spectral, and temporal resolution of the main remote sensing platforms available
5.2Method of multilevel analysis of land-use and land-cover change
8.1Changing pattern of temperature and precipitation for Japan


Plates fall between pages 114 and 115

Plate 1Overlay of property grid on a Landsat image for Altamira, Pará, Brazil
Plate 2Study area showing cohort-based stratified sampling in Altamira using the overlay in Plate 1
Plate 3Differences in the development of side-by-side properties in colonist farms
Plate 4Comparison of the spatial resolution of Quickbird and Landsat TM in urban area analysis


This book will synthesize the foundations for the emergence of a new cross-disciplinary enterprise that many scholars are calling environmental social science, and/or, human–environment interactions research (aka, sustainability science and coupled human natural systems research). The book, to remain coherent, cannot take on every topic under this broad umbrella. Thus, important areas in human environment research such as international environmental regulatory regimes (environmental treaties), environmental policy formation, public environmental concern and pro-environmental behaviors and valuation of environmental goods and services are not addressed here. The goal, instead, is to make accessible to both natural and social scientists the tools and the language that are used in this multidisciplinary type of work thereby facilitating the collaborative work across the natural and social sciences. The focus is very much on spatially explicit approaches to this area of research and how to use these approaches to bridge the divide between the social and natural sciences. One of the impediments to multidisciplinary research has been a lack of familiarity with the foundational theories and methods underlying the approaches used in the social sciences and the biophysical sciences. It is my hope that this book will assist those who wish to work across these boundaries. To do so we need to understand the underlying assumptions and theories, and which ones have been productive in past and current research.

In writing the book, on a topic that I have spent decades studying, researching and analyzing, I have turned to some of my earlier writings (particularly those from the past decade or so) and readers will find some of the writing here reminiscent of some of these earlier writings of mine. This is as it should be, since this book is an effort to take much of what I have learned from cross-disciplinary research and teaching, and leverage it now in this effort to provide a compendium of that experience as it applies to how to facilitate the interaction of social and bio-ecological scientists. This is a continuing challenge, and one that this book will not solve. However, it is my sincere hope that the book will provide members of the community with resources to facilitate conversation, formulation of questions that are integrative in nature, and to result in better collaboration between scientists. The literature on this broad range of subjects is also all encompassing, and I have tried to be selective in providing an entry into these subjects, rather than try to be encyclopedic.

It is probably worthwhile here to make note that there are many terms used for this area of research which could cause confusion among those new to the subject. Each of the social sciences has an environmental component (i.e. environmental anthropology, environmental geography, environmental history, environmental sociology, environmental and ecological economics, environmental psychology), and one finds almost the same sort of detail in the bio-ecological sciences (i.e. plant ecology, human ecology (now a section of the Ecological Society of America), and ecosystem ecology to name just a few). If one moves to consider interdisciplinary approaches, the problem occurs again with names such as human ecology (which goes back to the early years of the twentieth century, and of which there are diverse branches such as the well-known program at Cornell University, where it referred to Home and Consumer Economics (but largely focused on nutrition), and to the Urban Ecology School at Chicago in the 1920s, and the physical anthropologists working on Human Biology and Adaptability). Stern (1993) has proposed the use of the term “second environmental science” to refer to this human environment area, and NSF has nudged the field by creating a program on “coupled human natural systems” (cf. Liu et al. 2007a, 2007b). While each of these terms has a history, and some distinctive context from which it came, they are mostly concerned with linking social and natural sciences in addressing the complex problems of the environment. While there are any number of recent edited volumes that try to introduce readers to this subject, this book is an effort to provide a more unified perspective wherein spatial approaches are viewed as a lingua franca or integrative framework for this research area, and introduce both social and natural scientists to the tasks that we must undertake to make these types of complex systems approaches move forward. Depending on the training of instructors and what they view as missing here, it is presumed that this book will be used in conjunction with other books and/or a diversity of articles to provide advanced undergraduates and graduate students with the necessary breadth and depth to become informed participants in this interdisciplinary field of study.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the many colleagues who have for years stimulated me with their questions, reviews, critiques, and shared their experiences in this cross-disciplinary area. They are too numerous to mention individually. I was particularly stimulated by participation over many years in the National Research Council Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, the Land Use and Land Cover Change Scientific Steering Committee, the Transition Team for the Global Land Project, and the Smithsonian’s scientific committee of the National Museum of Natural History. The imprint from these interactions with superb scholars engaged in the issues raised by this book was always inspiring and has moved me to write this book. I also wish to thank the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development at NIH, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) and the Tinker Foundation for support of my work over the years that has made possible my engagement with these research issues – and Indiana University for having provided a home in which I had the freedom to pursue these diverse tasks, centered at two research centers, the Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT, and the Center for the Study of Institutions, Population, and Environmental Change (CIPEC, Readers will find many resources, including downloadable PDFs at these two websites, which complement substantively the broad ideas presented in this book.

I also want to thank my research assistants, Paula Sauer Dias, Melanie Knapp, and Kelsey Scroggins, for their dedicated work in finding the literature and preparing the book for publication. Linda Day helped coordinate their efforts and I also wish to thank her. I wish to thank Rosalie Robertson and Julia Kirk, from Wiley-Blackwell, for keeping just the right amount of gentle pressure to keep me writing even as I found myself engaged in multiple research projects that required my time as well. This book is dedicated to Elinor Ostrom, Eduardo Brondízio and to Leah VanWey – three colleagues with whom I have had a very productive partnership over the years (designing and writing proposals together, and then carrying out and writing up the results), and who have proven always stimulating scholars and loyal friends. I feel immensely grateful for having had the opportunity to work closely with them.

Bloomington, IN

July 1, 2009