Biodiversity has been shown to increase the resilience of ecosystems to global change. But what fosters the resilience of social-ecological systems? MRI Principal Investigator Adrienne Grêt-Regamey is lead author of a new paper published in Nature Sustainability focusing on the importance of actors' diversity in relation to this question.

Mountains, despite their size and apparent strength, are fragile landscapes, shaped by interactions between humans and nature. However, socio-economic and climate changes are influencing the way these mountain social-ecological systems function, and the current climate debate shows how difficult it is to modify these drivers of change. So what can be done to make mountain landscapes more robust – and enable them to continue providing vital ecosystem services – in the face of global change? A new paper published in Nature Sustainability explores precisely this question.

Using an empirically informed agent-based modelling approach, the paper demonstrates that both the number of actors (actors richness) and the diversity of the abilities and skills that characterize their management capabilities (actors’ functional diversity) are key determinants of the resilience of social-ecological systems to global change. MRI Principal Investigator Prof. Adrienne Grêt-Regamey is the paper's lead author. 

"In an eight-year interdisciplinary research project, we developed an integrative modeling toolbox, which allowed us to study how socio-ecological systems react to change under various climate and socio-economic trajectories (presses) and extreme events (pulses) and how often these systems share long-known fundamental principles of ecosystems," Grêt-Regamey writes in a recent blog post for the Nature Research Sustainability Community. "We found that a high complementarity among farmers’ abilities and skills helps to buffer vulnerable mountain systems against socio-economic and climate change."

"This may sound like common sense, but it is nonetheless a crucial insight – the resilience of mountains depends on high levels of both biological and social diversity," Grêt-Regamey continues. "This means that it does not help to just keep farmers in mountain regions to take care of the landscape. It is a typical 'more of something good is not always better' effect – analogous to principles in biology, where what counts is not only the number of animals of one species, but the number of species overall and their own specific way of interacting with the environment. A wide variety of species leads to a wider range of responses to environmental fluctuations over time, thus rendering the entire community more stable. To make mountain regions more resilient to global change, we need to have highly diverse land management strategies provided by various stewards, from part-time sheep farmers to full-time cow farmers."

Read Adrienne Grêt-Regamey's blog post for the Nature Research Sustainability Community in full here. 

Access the paper: Adrienne Grêt-Regamey, Sibyl H. Huber, & Robert Huber. 2019. 'Actors’ diversity and the resilience of social-ecological systems to global change.' Nature Sustainability.

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