A co-evolutionary people-nature process

New PhD dissertation on natural resource management

Photo: S. Zeff/Azote
In his dissertation, Recalling Urban Nature-linking city people to ecosystem servicesPDF (pdf, 2.8 MB), researcher Stephan Barthel from Stockholm Resilience Centre and Stockholm University's Department of Systems Ecology, explore social-ecological features in relation to on the ground management of ecosystem services.

Specific aims has been to analyze effects of past land use and of local current management practice on the generation of urban ecosystem services, and to explore how management practices, which are linked to ecosystem services, are retained and stored among a group of people, and modified and transmitted through time.

The novel approach here is the combination of a long term perspective, interdisciplinary methods and the exploration of the role of social-ecological memory in relation to urban ecosystem services.

A co-evolutionary process between people and nature
- The landscape of the National Urban Park in Stockholm owes its high species diversity and current flow of ecosystem services to co-evolutionary processes between people and nature, ignited several thousand years ago. Sustaining ecosystem services in urban areas is not about conservation without people, but shaped by and dependent on management practice by people, Stephan Barthel says. His dissertation is the first to take place at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Barthel has studied three types of land uses that can be found in the National Urban Park in Stockholm - allotment gardens, cemeteries and city parks - and their management relations to pollination, seed dispersal and pest regulation. During field studies, ecological inventories of bumble bees and small birds in the three classes of land use were combined with interviews and questionnaires with the managers of the areas.

Better ground management appreciation of ecologically engaged people
The results indicate that self-organised groups of allotment gardeners are important actors involved in the management of urban ecosystem services. The abundance of pollinators in the informally managed allotment gardens is higher than in the cemeteries and city parks and there are important differences in the composition of seed dispersers and insectivores.

- My thesis illustrates the benefits of creating incentives for ecologically engaged people that are aware of the significance of ecosystem services for societal development to participate in their management. This calls for policy makers to appreciate and actively include citizens in the ground management of urban ecosystem services, whether it is about sustaining urban green areas or developing new ones, Barthel says.
 
Long-term engagements in physical sites are however crucial for successful voluntary engagement and management, the thesis shows. Allotment gardeners in Stockholm hold leaseholds on long-term basis which enables them to invest in their gardens and grow long lived plants such as fruit trees that attract pollinators.
 
- The current political discussion on shortening the leasehold length for allotment gardens in Stockholm is very worrying from an ecosystem management point of view, Barthel says.

Social-ecological memory determines success or failure
Long-term engagement is not only important for motivating local managers to continue their management, but also for developing place specific social-ecological memory. Social-ecological memory in urban gardening is retained and transmitted through participation in mimicking practices, learning processes, oral communication and collective gatherings. It also resides in structures of chalets and garden plots and other physical forms and artifacts as well as a number of rules-in-use of allotment gardening.

- Social-ecological memory determines success or failure of navigating away from complex tipping points of undesirable trajectories, where life supporting ecosystem servcies no longer are generated, Barthel concludes.

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Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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