There are neither natural or pristine systems without people nor social systems without nature. Social and ecological systems are not just linked but truly interconnected and co-evolving across spatial and temporal scales.
We refer to them as social-ecological systems. We use the concept social-ecological since it emphasizes the humans-in-the-environment perspective; that earth´s ecosystems, from local areas to the biosphere as a whole, provide the biophysical foundation and ecosystems services for social and economic development.
But also that the ecosystems we observe have been shaped by human decision making throughout history and human actions directly and indirectly alter their capacity to sustain societal development.
Human dimension fundamental
It is difficult and even impossible to truly understand ecosystem dynamics and their ability to generate services without accounting for the human dimension. Focusing on the ecological side only, as a basis for decision making for sustainability, simplifies reality to the extent that the results become incomplete and the conclusions partial.
Doing the natural science first with the social dimension added on later in the processes misses essential feedbacks. The same is true for social sustainability.
Despite a vast literature on the social dimension of resource and environmental management, studies have often focused on investigating processes within the social domain only, treating the ecosystem largely as a given, an external “black box", assuming that if the social system performs adaptively or is well organized institutionally it will also manage ecosystems in a sustainable fashion.
A human society may show great ability to cope with change and adapt if analyzed only through the social dimension lens. But such an adaptation may be at the expense of changes in the capacity of ecosystems to sustain the adaptation, and may generate traps and breakpoints in social-ecological systems.