Models of Natural and Human Dynamics in Forest Landscapes: Cross-Site and Cross-Cultural Synthesis

Journal or Book Title: Geoforum

Keywords: Biocomplexity; Texas; Venezuela; Land use; Land cover; Change; Coupled natural-human systems; Forest; Landscapes; Agents

Volume/Issue: 39/2

Page Number(s): 846-866

Year Published: 2008


We synthesize the study of coupled natural and human systems across sites and cultures through a process of simplification and abstraction based on multiple dimensions of human-nature connectedness: satisfaction of basic needs, psycho-cultural connectedness and regulation of use of natural resources. We thus provide both a place-based and general understanding of value-driven anthropogenic environmental change and response. Two questions guide this research: what are the crucial stakeholder values that drive land use decisions and thus land cover change? And how can knowledge of these values be used to make decisions and policies that sustain both the human and natural systems in a place? To explore these questions we build simulation models of four study sites, two in the State of Texas, United States, and two in Venezuela. All include protected areas, though they differ in the specifics of vegetation and land use. In the Texas sites, relatively affluent individuals are legally converting forests to residential, commercial, and industrial uses, while in Venezuela landless settlers are extra-legally converting forests for purposes of subsistence agriculture. Contemporary modeling techniques now facilitate simulations of stakeholder and ecosystem dynamics revealing emergent patterns. Such coupled human and natural systems are currently recognized as a form of biocomplexity. Our modeling framework is flexible enough to allow adaptation to each of the study sites, capturing the essential features of the respective natural and anthropogenic land use changes and stakeholder reactions. The interactions between human stakeholders are simulated using multi-agent models that act on forest landscape models, and receive feedback of the effects of these actions on ecological habitats and hydrological response. The multi-agent models employ a formal logic-based method for the Venezuelan sites and a decision analysis approach using multi-attribute utility functions for the Texas sites, differing more in style and emphasis than in substance. Our natural-systems models are generic and can be tailored according to site-specific conditions. Similar models of tree growth and patch transitions are used for all the study sites and the differing responses to environmental variables are specified for each local species and terrain conditions.

DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2006.10.008

Type of Publication: Journal Article