Social-Ecological Theory of Maximization: Basic Concepts and Two Initial Models

  • Ulysses Paulino AlbuquerqueEmail author
  • Patricia Muniz de Medeiros
  • Washington Soares Ferreira Júnior
  • Taline Cristina da Silva
  • Rafael Ricardo Vasconcelos da Silva
  • Thiago Gonçalves-Souza
Original Article


Efforts have been dedicated to the understanding of social-ecological systems, an important focus in ethnobiological studies. In particular, ethnobiological investigations have found evidence and tested hypotheses over the last 30 years on the interactions between human groups and their environments, generating the need to formulate a theory for such systems. In this article, we propose the social-ecological theory of maximization to explain the construction and functioning of these systems over time, encompassing hypotheses and evidence from previous ethnobiological studies. In proposing the theory, we present definitions and two conceptual models, an environmental maximization model and a redundancy generation model. The first model seeks to address biota selection and its use by human populations. The second emphasizes how the system organizes itself from the elements that were incorporated into it. Furthermore, we provide the theoretical scenario of plant selection and use from an evolutionary perspective, which explicitly integrates the phylogenetic relationships of plants (or other living resources) and human beings.


Evolutionary ethnobiology Human ecology Optimization theories Social-ecological systems 



We acknowledge the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) for the research productivity grant awarded to UPA and PMM and the contribution of the INCT Ethnobiology, Bioprospecting and Nature Conservation, certified by CNPq, with financial support from FACEPE (Foundation for Support to Science and Technology of the State of Pernambuco—Grant number: APQ-0562-2.01/17).


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patricia Muniz de Medeiros
    • 2
  • Washington Soares Ferreira Júnior
    • 3
  • Taline Cristina da Silva
    • 4
  • Rafael Ricardo Vasconcelos da Silva
    • 2
  • Thiago Gonçalves-Souza
    • 5
  1. 1.Laboratório de Ecologia e Evolução de Sistemas Socioecológicos (LEA), Departamento de Botânica, Centro de BiociênciasUniversidade Federal de PernambucoRecifeBrazil
  2. 2.Laboratório de Ecologia, Conservação e Evolução Biocultural, Centro de Ciências AgráriasUniversidade Federal de AlagoasRio LargoBrazil
  3. 3.Campus PetrolinaUniversidade de PernambucoPetrolinaBrazil
  4. 4.Departamento de BiologiaUniversidade Estadual de AlagoasAlagoasBrazil
  5. 5.Laboratório de Ecologia Filogenética e Funcional, Departamento de BiologiaUniversidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco, Dois IrmãosRecifeBrazil

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