Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 19–52 | Cite as

Residential landscapes as social-ecological systems: a synthesis of multi-scalar interactions between people and their home environment

  • Elizabeth M. CookEmail author
  • Sharon J. Hall
  • Kelli L. Larson


Residential landscapes are a common setting of human-environment interactions. These ubiquitous ecosystems provide social and ecological services, and yard maintenance leads to intended and unintended ecological outcomes. The ecological characteristics of residential landscapes and the human drivers of landscape management have been the focus of disciplinary studies, often at a single scale of analysis. However, an interdisciplinary examination of residential landscapes is needed to understand the feedbacks and tradeoffs of these complex adaptive social-ecological systems as a whole. Our aim is to synthesize the diversity of perspectives, scales of analysis, and findings from the literature in order to 1) contribute to an interdisciplinary understanding of residential landscapes and 2) identify research needs while providing a robust conceptual approach for future studies. We synthesize 256 studies from the literature and develop an interdisciplinary, multi-scalar framework on residential landscape dynamics. Complex human drivers (attitudinal, structural, and institutional factors) at multiple scales influence management practices and the feedbacks with biophysical characteristics of residential landscapes. However, gaps exist in our interdisciplinary understanding of residential landscapes within four key but understudied areas: 1) the link between social drivers and ecological outcomes of management decisions, 2) the ecosystem services provided by these landscapes to residents, 3) the interactions of social drivers and ecological characteristics across scales, and 4) generalizations of patterns and processes across cities. Our systems perspective will help to guide future interdisciplinary collaborations to integrate theories and research methods across geographic locations and spatial scales.


Residential landscapes Social-ecological systems Urban Yard management Scale Lawn 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. DEB-0423704, Central Arizona–Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) and Grant No. 0504248, Integrative Graduate Education Research and Training (IGERT) in Urban Ecology. We thank B. Funke, C.A Strawhacker, and V.K. Turner for insightful discussions on the conceptual diagram presented in this paper, which was conceived during the 2008 IGERT/ASU School of Sustainability workshop. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that improved this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth M. Cook
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sharon J. Hall
    • 1
  • Kelli L. Larson
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Schools of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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