Research on Coupled Human and Natural Systems (CHANS): Approach, Challenges, and Strategies

Journal or Book Title: Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America

Volume/Issue: 92/2

Page Number(s): 218-228

Year Published: 2011


Understanding the complexity of human–nature interactions is central to the quest for both human well-being and global sustainability. To build an understanding of these interactions, scientists, planners, resource managers, policy makers, and communities increasingly are collaborating across wide-ranging disciplines and knowledge domains. Scientists and others are generating new integrated knowledge on top of their requisite specialized knowledge to understand complex systems in order to solve pressing environmental and social problems (e.g., Carpenter et al. 2009). One approach to this sort of integration, bringing together detailed knowledge of various disciplines (e.g., social, economic, biological, and geophysical), has become known as the study of Coupled Human and Natural Systems, or CHANS (Liu et al. 2007ab).

In 2007 a formal standing program in Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems was created by the U.S. National Science Foundation. Recently, the program supported the launch of an International Network of Research on Coupled Human and Natural Systems. A major kick-off event of the network was a symposium on Complexity in Human–Nature Interactions across Landscapes, which brought together leading CHANS scientists at the 2009 meeting of the U.S. Regional Association of the International Association for Landscape Ecology in Snowbird, Utah. The symposium highlighted original and innovative research emphasizing reciprocal interactions between human and natural systems at multiple spatial, temporal, and organizational scales. The symposium was accompanied by a workshop on Challenges and Opportunities in CHANS Research. This article provides an overview of the CHANS approach, outlines the primary challenges facing the CHANS research community, and discusses potential strategies to meet these challenges, based upon the presentations and discussions among participants at the Snowbird meeting.

DOI: 10.1890/0012-9623-92.2.218

Type of Publication: Journal Article