Investigating water scarcity and governance across social-ecological systems (WaterSES)

Environmental and social change in water-scarce regions across the globe pose significant challenges to the well-being of social-ecological systems (SES). WaterSES is a sponsored working group within the Program for Ecosystem Change and Society that promotes transdisciplinary, placed-based comparative research to identify appropriate operational scales for SES stewardship and management.

WaterSES sitesIn November of 2015, Antonio J. Castro was invited to present in the Annual conference of the Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) in South Africa. There, he was asked by the PECS executive director, Albert Nörstrom, to apply to create a new working group, the PECS-WaterSES group.

WaterSES aims to understand and compare the social-ecological dynamics across international research sites with conflicting local and regional water needs and governance. WaterSES includes international research sites in Spain, China, South Africa and the US (Oklahoma, Texas and Idaho). The sites have different climates, water needs and socio-ecological dynamics, but are all experiencing new regional, societal demands for limited water resources. WaterSES goals are (1) synthesize data collected across research sites to identify novel and pressing SES science questions, (2) identify data needed to make cross-site comparisons and identify sustainable policy solutions at a range of spatial scales and contexts, and (3) target cross-institutional funding opportunities at the national and international level.

Case studies locationsCurrently, we are working with four place-based research sites: southern Spain, the south-central Great Plains of Oklahoma (US), and the Portneuf and Treasure Valleys, Idaho (US), representing different social-ecological dynamics and watershed management scenarios. Using over 2,000 face-to-face questionnaires, we analyze and compare ecosystem service perceptions within and across four research sites.

Additionally, we explore how those service perceptions vary between stakeholder types and socio-economic factors, and we examine how different social-ecological contexts influence people’s perceptions regarding ecosystem services. We identify shared patterns in the perception of ecosystem services, as for instance the services tourism and food were considered the most important across the four sites. However, respondents in each study site showed own perceptions connected to the intrinsic characteristics of the local landscape, ecological variables and socio-economic context. We demonstrate that social demand for ecosystem services are strongly influenced not just by the social-ecological-cultural context but also by the different social-ecological dynamics and watershed.

HES Researchers

Other Research Collaborators

Antonio J. Castro
Colden Baxter
Trina Running
Marina García-Llorente
Morey Burham
Berta Martín-López
Caryn C. Vaughn
Jason Julian
Felix Liao
Benis Egoh