Toward a Social-Ecological Theory of Forest Macrosystems for Improved Ecosystem Management

William Kleindl, Paul Stoy, Michael Binford, Ankur Desai, Michael Dietze, Courtney Schultz, Gregory Starr, Christina Staudhammer, David Wood
2018 Forests  
The implications of cumulative land-use decisions and shifting climate on forests, require us to integrate our understanding of ecosystems, markets, policy, and resource management into a social-ecological system. Humans play a central role in macrosystem dynamics, which complicates ecological theories that do not explicitly include human interactions. These dynamics also impact ecological services and related markets, which challenges economic theory. Here, we use two forest macroscale
more » ... nt initiatives to develop a theoretical understanding of how management interacts with ecological functions and services at these scales and how the multiple large-scale management goals work either in consort or conflict with other forest functions and services. We suggest that calling upon theories developed for organismal ecology, ecosystem ecology, and ecological economics adds to our understanding of social-ecological macrosystems. To initiate progress, we propose future research questions to add rigor to macrosystem-scale studies: (1) What are the ecosystem functions that operate at macroscales, their necessary structural components, and how do we observe them? (2) How do systems at one scale respond if altered at another scale? (3) How do we both effectively measure these components and interactions, and communicate that information in a meaningful manner for policy and management across different scales? 2 of 23 distributions, species extinctions, and ecological simplification [4] [5] [6] . As our awareness of large-scale environmental problems increases, so does our concern about how to manage the environment at the multiple scales at which they are impacted [7] . For example, we have developed great expertise to plan and manage forests strategically at local to regional scales-on the order of meters to hundreds of kilometers-in an attempt to sustain a suite of ecosystem processes necessary to balance the multiple ecological services they provide [8] [9] [10] [11] . However, as we begin to consider how cumulative planning and management actions affect forests at regional to continental scales, on the order of hundreds to thousands of kilometers, it is unclear if existing theory will translate to effective management at these broader scales [12] [13] [14] . Planning and management approaches (which we will simply call "management") at ecosystem and landscape scales attempt to reconcile multijurisdictional and multiple objective challenges through a participatory process among science, policy, resource managers, and the public, e.g., [15] [16] [17] [18] . Even organizations within the United States with jurisdictions at large scales still primarily set objectives, implement specific management, and assess the results of actions at the local field office (BLM), national forest (USFS), park (NPS) or state Forest Action Plans. However, in light of ecosystem responses to global changes, we are now aware that larger scale (i.e., "macroscale") forest management may be necessary for effective management of the overall Earth system [13, 19] . Following Heffernan and others [13], we define forest macrosystems as regional to continental areas made up of biotic, abiotic, and human components that interact with one another and with phenomena at other spatial and temporal scales. As this is a burgeoning field in ecology and Earth system science, the challenge will be to communicate these complexities to facilitate an effective participatory process for forest management problems that exist at these large scales. Macrosystems cross ownership and jurisdictional boundaries, and are subject to cumulative management decisions that are coupled with other large-scale global perturbations. Cumulative land-use decisions and global change must be taken into consideration if management is to be effective at these much larger scales. Despite the growing need to establish management strategies at macroscales, e.g., [20] [21] [22] , our understanding of macroecological ecosystem structure and function is still at an early stage, as is our understanding of how individual components operate in the context of the social-ecological systems that encompass them [13] . Ongoing and often slow progress in social-ecological understanding reflects a long, iterative, and sometimes contentious relationship between: (1) ecological theory, which helps in understanding the structure and function of ecosystems; (2) public opinion and governance institutions, which determines which ecological goods and services are valued and how they are managed; and (3) resource management, which attempts to maintain ecosystems and their benefits [23] [24] [25] . Through these relationships, we define management goals at the stand and landscape scales (e.g., U.S. National Forest boundaries) [26, 27] , and create strategies to manage adaptively for emerging and novel ecosystem characteristics under global change [26, 28] . We argue that to facilitate the definition of management goals at macroscales, the ecological community must provide three important components: (1) ecological assessment tools that, through an easily-understood interpretation of ecological data, can be used to integrate science into decision efforts in ways that facilitate management and public support [23, 29] ; (2) effective theories for macroecological systems that allow for the development of productive abstract analysis and hypothesis testing; and (3) a framework for testing these theories empirically using the growing body of monitoring data and modeling efforts. This article explores the current theoretical, empirical, and practical constructs of a social-ecological system as applied to forests, and then discusses pathways to apply these constructs at the scale of forest macrosystems. We use examples of two forest initiative efforts that operate at a macroecological scale and discuss how these efforts provide a framework for assessment approaches that interface between social and ecological aspects of macrosystems.
doi:10.3390/f9040200 fatcat:rja34k7wezcg7pjdyfhrgkdm5m