Office of Research and Development Publications

Benefits of using a Social-Ecological Systems Approach to Conceptualize and Model Wetlands Restoration


Balogh, S., C. Wigand, AND S. Yee. Benefits of using a Social-Ecological Systems Approach to Conceptualize and Model Wetlands Restoration. Society of Wetland Scientists Annual Meeting, San Juan, PUERTO RICO, June 05 - 08, 2017.


This research combines two frameworks developed to analyze and model social-ecological systems: the DPSIR framework and the Benefits Assessment Framework. These are used to build conceptual systems models of two wetland restoration projects and to estimate the potential impacts on the delivery of final ecosystem goods and services to beneficiaries.


Using a social-ecological systems (SES) perspective to examine wetland restoration helps decision-makers recognize interdependencies and relations between ecological and social components of coupled systems. Conceptual models are an invaluable tool to capture, visualize, and organize the key factors in complex social-ecological systems, but can be overwhelming to generate and lead to key concepts being overlooked if development is unstructured. Using a DPSIR approach (Drivers, Pressures, State, Impact, Responses), conceptual models can be developed to link decision scenarios and stressors to impacts on ecosystem services. These impacts on priority ecosystem services can then be linked to changes in human health and well-being through benefit functions. Expert input and contributions across disciplines provides appropriate temporal and spatial scales for determination of targets, project implementation, and monitoring strategies. This approach is being applied to create descriptive SES models of two wetland restoration projects. The first, the dredging of a degraded estuarine channel and restoration of mangrove forests in Caño Martìn Peña in San Juan, Puerto Rico is in the planning stage. The second, the restoration of a former cranberry farm in Plymouth, Massachusetts has completed a large restoration of freshwater wetland, and is gearing up for a second phase. Through the development of conceptual models, we are connecting driving forces with ecological pressures and changes in the environment and are linking ecosystem services with human well-being. We have identified important intrinsic and extrinsic driving forces and pressures, such as changes in agricultural technologies which are driving cranberry farm retirement in Massachusetts and changing demographics and population in Puerto Rican neighborhoods. Through facilitated discussion and workshops, relevant ecosystem services were defined and the potential beneficiaries of those services were distinguished. Additionally, stakeholders and researchers identified relationships between on-going and planned restoration and research efforts and potential synergistic efforts in the broader watershed. We find that benefits from taking an SES approach to modeling wetlands restoration can accrue during the development of the conceptual model, even prior to numerical modeling of changes in ecosystem services and their impact on human well-being.

Record Details:

Product Published Date: 06/05/2017
Record Last Revised: 06/12/2017
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 336602