Mapping social-ecological systems and human well-being : A spatial exploration of the links between people and the environment in South Africa

University dissertation from Stockholm : Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Abstract: It has become increasingly clear that dealing with present day environmental crises requires a holistic view that takes into account the interactions of social and ecological factors across multiple spatial and temporal scales. An example of where this new paradigm is being operationalized is the study of social-ecological systems. A substantial aspect of this growing research area aims to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the links between social-ecological systems, the ecosystem services they generate, and human well-being. This thesis summarizes the first part of a PhD project with the overall objective of unravelling some of these linkages using a mapping approach in South Africa, a country with high levels of social and ecological diversity.In the first paper, I present an approach to mapping social-ecological systems based on different bundles of ecosystem services. Mapping social-ecological systems has so far mainly been achieved by the overlay of separate social and ecological data. Here, I identify characteristic bundles of ecosystem services and use these bundle types as a proxy for different social-ecological systems in South Africa. The emergent pattern shows three distinct and spatially coherent systems that represent an overall low, medium and high level of ecosystem service use amongst households, and differs markedly from maps based on the overlay of social and ecological datasets. This approach not only identifies areas within South Africa where people are especially vulnerable to environmental changes that negatively affect ecosystem services, but also highlights areas in which distinctly different system dynamics operate in close proximity. It is especially in those areas where systems characterized by high and low dependence on ecosystem services lie side by side that nuanced and differentiated decision-making is required to sustainably manage ecosystem services in support of human well-being across all sectors of society.In the second paper I expand on the approach pioneered in Paper I by mapping human well-being bundles in South Africa. Mapping human well-being as bundles allows us to interrogate the trade-offs between different constituents of well-being at the sub-national scale, something that is not possible when measuring human well-being based on indicators or indices that reduce well-being to a single number. This approach also enables us to perform a spatial comparison between the levels of ecosystem service use (identified in Paper I) and human well-being, which signifies an important step forward in the development of quantitative tools for the analysis of the relationship between ecosystem services and human well-being at scales between the local and the national.