Transformations in Ecosystem Stewardship

  • Carl Folke
  • F. Stuart ChapinIII
  • Per Olsson


Changes in governance are needed to deal with rapid directional change, adapt to it, shape it, and create opportunities for positive transformations of social-ecological systems. Throughout this book we stress that human societies and globally interconnected economies are parts of the dynamics of the biosphere, embedded in its processes, and ultimately dependent on the capacity of the environment to sustain societal development with essential ecosystem services (Odum 1989, MEA 2005d). This implies that resource management is not just about harvesting resources or conserving species but concerns stewardship of the very foundation of a prosperous social and economic development, particularly under conditions of rapid and directional social-ecological change (Table 5.1). We first discussed the integration of the ecological (see Chapter 2) and social (see Chapters 3 and 4) aspects of ecosystem stewardship in relation to directional change and resilience in a globally interconnected world (see Chapter 1), emphasizing processes that reduce the likelihood of passive degradation that might lead to socially undesirable regime shifts. In this chapter we identify ways to enhance the likelihood of constructive transformative change toward stewardship of dynamic landscapes and seascapes and the ecosystem services that they generate. Rapid and directional changes provide major challenges but also opportunities for innovation and prosperous development. Such development requires systems of governance of social-ecological dynamics that maintain and enhance adaptive capacity for societal progress, while sustaining ecological life-support systems.


Ecosystem Service Adaptive Capacity Great Barrier Reef Governance System Regime Shift 
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Additional Readings

  1. Carpenter, S.R., E.M. Bennett, and G.D. Peterson. 2006. Scenarios for ecosystem services: An overview. Ecology and Society 11(1):29 [online] URL: iss1/art29/
  2. Folke, C., T. Hahn, P. Olsson, and J. Norberg. 2005. Adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 30:441–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Gunderson, L.H., and C.S. Holling, editors. 2002. Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, Washington.Google Scholar
  4. Olsson, P., L.H. Gunderson, S.R. Carpenter, P. Ryan, L. Lebel, et al. 2006. Shooting the rapids: Navigating transitions to adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 11(1):18. [online] URL:
  5. Repetto, R. 2006. Punctuated Equilibrium and the Dynamics of U.S. Environmental Policy. Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  6. Scheffer, M., S.R. Carpenter, J.A. Foley, C. Folke, and B.H. Walker. 2001. Catastrophic shifts in ecosystems. Nature 413:591–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Walker, B.H., C.S. Holling, S.R. Carpenter, and A.P. Kinzig. 2004. Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 9(2):5 [online] URL:

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carl Folke
    • 1
    • 2
  • F. Stuart ChapinIII
    • 3
  • Per Olsson
    • 1
  1. 1.Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Royal Swedish Academy of SciencesSE 104 05Sweden
  3. 3.Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA

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