PhD position in Stockholm: Disentangling cross-scale driver interactions in marine social-ecological systems

Marine ecosystems can undergo unexpected and dramatic changes in community structure and dynamics, known as regime shifts. These shifts can profoundly change ecosystem services upon which human welfare depends. A better understanding of the diversity of alternative regimes and the strength, direction, scale and interactions of processes that underpin them is central in order to avoid or reverse unwanted regime shifts. However, changes in ecosystem processes are essentially inflicted by human drivers, such as overfishing, eutrophication, climate change, and the social dynamics surrounding them, including markets, poverty, and governance structures. At the same time, the social dynamics are shaped by the ecological changes they produce, manifested through, for example, changes in ecosystem services. This makes management of marine systems a transdisciplinary challenge.

Marine social-ecological systems can exhibit hierarchical patterns of organization. Social relationships with ecosystems can be characterized in a generalizable form by differentiating between proximate and underlying levels of social-ecological system relationships. At the proximate level, social systems interact directly with resources and biophysical systems in a reciprocal nature. These proximate, or direct, relationships comprise the ecosystem services and benefits that coastal societies accrue as well as the impacts and modifying actions that alter ecosystems. These direct relationships also exhibit underlying dimensions that serve to explain the indirect relationships between ecosystems and fundamental social system structuring traits and human wellbeing. These underlying dimensions are also sometimes referred to as distal drivers. The differentiation between proximate and underlying dimensions of environmental change has been applied primarily to studies of terrestrial systems, but rarely in a marine social-ecological context.

The position
The aim of this PhD position is two-fold; i) investigate the directionality of relationships between ecosystem regimes, proximate and the underlying (distal) human dimensions drivers of marine social-ecological systems. For this purpose case-studies will be used for detailed analysis of the complex feedbacks, relationships, and interactions that characterize these direct and indirect interactions, ii) use generated results to guide an analysis of principal pathways in marine social-ecological systems on a global scale. In essence, a principal pathways analysis can provide a novel way to determine the different combinations of various proximate causes and underlying driving forces in varying geographical contexts.

This can be broken down into three objectives:
1. Identifying novel ways to identify ecosystem regimes in marine social-ecological systems, and assessing the proximate drivers (and their interactions) influencing these regimes. Proximate drivers will include both biophysical and anthropogenic variables.

2. Assessing the effect of distal drivers, and their interactions with proximate drivers, on marine social-ecological systems. Key distal drivers include, for example, demography; economic systems and modes of production; technological factors; institutions and governance systems.

3. Assessing global cross-scale driver dynamics on marine social-ecological systems by identifying principle pathways at a global scale.

The project will have links to Stanford University (Center for Ocean Solutions), NCEAS Ocean Tipping Points, NOAA, Nereus Program, and is jointly funded by the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere Program at the Swedish Royal Academy of Science and the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics.

The PhD student will supervised by Associate Professor Magnus Nyström (Stockholm Resilience Centre), and co-supervised by the Associate Professors Beatrice Crona (Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences), and Henrik Österblom (Stockholm Resilience Centre).

Find more information on the position here:

Deadline for application: 2nd May 2014

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