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Textbook: "Principles of Ecosystem Stewardship: Resilience-Based Natural Resource Management in a Changing World"


Our IGERT program has integrated several sources of theory relating to social-ecological sustainability (the central theme of our IGERT) to produce, “Principles of ecosystem stewardship: Resilience-based natural resource management in a changing world” by Stuart Chapin III (UAF- PI of IGERT 0114423), Gary P. Kofinas (UAF PI of IGERT 0654441), and Carl Folke (Stockholm Resilience Institute, Sweden), 2009, New York, Springer-Verlag.

The textbook is for upper division undergraduates and graduate students, and provides an integrated framework of sustainability science, drawing on the concepts of vulnerability, resilience, adaptability, and transformability. The textbook includes chapters by contributing authors focusing on forest, marine, coastal, drylands, agricultural, global and other social-ecological systems.

Address Goals

When we began the program, there were three interdisciplinary but largely isolated bodies of relevant theory that addressed sustainability:

  1. Vulnerability theory addresses the factors that govern the exposure and sensitivity of a social-ecological system to perturbations, largely from the perspective of geography.
  2. Resilience theory describes the factors that enable fundamental properties of a system to persist (or alternatively to degrade) in response to perturbations, largely based on ecology.
  3. Adaptation theory describes the capacity of the system to adapt in ways that either reduce vulnerability or increase resilience; this theory comes primarily from anthropology.

By integrating these approaches, we have identified policy strategies to enhance sustainability of social-ecological systems. These include (1) mitigating of factors such as climate change that cause persistent directional changes in social-ecological systems, (2) enhancing adaptive capacity through social learning and innovation, (3) increasing biotic and economic diversity to maximize future options, and (4) strengthening negative (stabilizing) feedbacks that buffer the system from change.

The development of an integrated theory of sustainability science has led to recognition of the University of Alaska as a leader in this field. Both students and faculty of our IGERT have published the theoretical foundations in leading journals (e.g., Chapin et al. 2006a, b; Kofinas et al. 2007, Loring et al. in press, Miller et al. in prep.). These IGERT efforts to provide a more integrated perspective also provide the basis for a textbook entitled “Principles of ecosystem stewardship: Resilience-based natural resource management in a changing world” (Chapin et al. in press). This textbook provides a mechanism by which we can convey the intellectual contributions of our IGERT to a much broader audience. The textbook, which summarizes the contributions to theory from our IGERT, provides a conceptual framework for understanding the fundamental interactions and processes of social-ecological systems in which people interact with their physical and biological environments. We explain how these systems respond to variability and change and discuss many of the ecological, cultural, political, and economic processes that contribute to these dynamics and how sustainability theory is helpful in adaptively managing resources under conditions of uncertainty and change.

The framework for sustainability science that we have developed through our IGERT will be useful to managers and policy makers with backgrounds in a wide array of disciplines, including ecology, political science, economics, and anthropology. The framework links recent advances in the theory of resilience, sustainability, and vulnerability with practical issues of resource management. Our work has led to generalizations about the functioning of social-ecological systems in a changing world and the opportunities that managers and policy makers have to make informed decisions that enhance sustainability.