Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 1205–1215 | Cite as

Looking to the past to shape the future: addressing social-ecological change and adaptive trade-offs

  • Colin Grier
  • Lilian Alessa
  • Andrew KliskeyEmail author
Review Article


Paleoecological and paleosocial synthesis, meaning the examination of data and patterns derived from past social and ecological systems, provides an important long-term perspective on adaptive strategies and their consequences. Data and analyses from extended timescales (centuries, millennia) have yet to be routinely incorporated into adaptive capacity studies; this has limited our ability to adequately consider adaptation and sustainability from a long-term perspective. In this study, we examine three cases of successful adaptation in the past drawn from various regions of northern North America and from various times spanning the last 13,000 years. These cases involve different degrees and kinds of environmental and social conditions, changes and triggers. Exploring their specific circumstances provides insights into the role of ecological, technological and social change in producing adaptive capacity and confronting sustainability challenges. Two implications of these case studies are explored. First, we outline how paleoecological and paleosocial approaches can be used to refine measures of adaptive capacity. Second, we argue that community-based observing networks are a deep time-vetted strategy for managing resources sustainably and that implementing similarly local and decentralized practices in modern contexts will aid in achieving sustainable resource management into the future.


Adaptive capacity Community-based observing Paleoecological Paleosocial Sustainability Synthesis 



The authors are grateful for funding that supported this research from: the National Science Foundation for awards DEB 1231233 (Mountain SEON), OIA 1301792 (Idaho MILES), ARC 1355238 (CONAS), and PLR 1642847 (EyesNorth RCN), and; the University of Idaho in support of the Center for Resilient Communities. Funding awarded to Grier by the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto, Japan (Small-scale Economies Project, Dr. Junko Habu, PI), also greatly facilitated this study. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the funding agencies. Jim Savelle and Jake Adams provided helpful comments and insights into the particulars of the Arctic case studies.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  2. 2.Center for Resilient CommunitiesUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA

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