Visualization of causation in social-ecological systems
In social-ecological systems (SES), where social and ecological processes are intertwined, phenomena are usually complex and involve multiple interdependent causes. Figuring out causal relationships is thus challenging but needed to better understand and then affect or manage such systems. One important and widely used tool to identify and communicate causal relationships is visualization. Here, we present several common visualization types: diagrams of objects and arrows, X-Y plots, and X-Y-Z plots, and discuss them in view of the particular challenges of visualizing causation in complex systems such as SES.
We use a simple demonstration model to create and compare exemplary visualizations and add more elaborate examples from the literature. This highlights implicit strengths and limitations of widely used visualization types and facilitates adequate choices when visualizing causation in SES. Thereupon, we recommend further suitable ways to account for complex causation, such as figures with multiple panels, or merging different visualization types in one figure. This provides caveats against oversimplifications. Yet, any single figure can rarely capture all relevant causal relationships in an SES. We therefore need to focus on specific questions, phenomena, or subsystems, and often also on specific causes and effects that shall be visualized.
Our recommendations allow for selecting and combining visualizations such that they complement each other, support comprehensive understanding, and do justice to the existing complexity in SES. This lets visualizations realize their potential and play an important role in identifying and communicating causation.
Research news | 2023-03-20
IPCC: It’s not too late if we take climate action now
In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a stark warning but also a message of hope
Research news | 2023-03-08
Growing “plastic smog” of 170 trillion particles afloat in the ocean
More than 170 trillion microplastic particles are floating in the World’s oceans, new study finds
Research news | 2023-03-06
Historic high seas treaty a win for planet and people
The new UN treaty on biodiversity in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction is a major step for ocean sustainability, according to centre researchers
Research news | 2023-03-02
Planetary boundaries must include justice, say researchers
Earth system boundaries must not only ensure the stability of the planet but also protect humans and other species from significant harm
Research news | 2023-03-01
World is set to miss UN targets for preventing deadly disasters
The global toll of disasters like the recent earthquake in Türkiye and Syria is on the rise because of a breakdown in communication between scientists and governments, according to a new report
Research news | 2023-02-22
Blue foods can help solve multiple global challenges
Blue foods – fish, shellfish, algae and aquatic plants – can be instrumental in solving multiple global crises, new analysis shows