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Lakes as Social-Ecological Systems

Project Lead: Kendra Spence Cheruvelil
Collaborators: Mary T. Bremigan, Dan B. Kramer, Arika Ligmann-Zielinksa, Patricia A. Soranno
Graduate students and Post-docs: Tao Zhang, Katie Droscha, Stacie Auvenshine

Lakes have long been recognized as integral components of terrestrial and aquatic landscapes. Over decades, a significant body of knowledge has accumulated on the role of lakes as climate regulators, hot spots of nutrient and biogeochemical cycling, and providers of diverse ecosystem services (Coleet al., 2007; Williamson et al., 2009). More recently, freshwater systems have been modeled as complex social-ecological systems where various human agents are critical components in explaining water nutrient dynamics (Carpenter et al., 1999; Doole et al., 2011). To date, predictive models of aquatic systems that incorporate this human dimension typically include crude demographic and socioeconomic proxies as variables to epitomize collective decision making in order to evaluate the role of humans in shaping the dynamics of inland waters. We believe that this approximation of human decision making is oversimplified because it does not account for the behavioral dynamics including detailed situational characteristics, environmental values, psychological factors, and social norms that, on top of monetary motivations, affect individual decisions (Barr, 2007; Koontz, 2001; Smajgl et al., 2011; Stern et al., 1995). The sustainability of aquatic landscapes, aimed at balancing water quality and quantity conservation efforts with land use activities and economic objectives, cannot be achieved without treating humans as central participants in the systems, represented as broadly defined active actors rather than passive stressors (Macy and Willer, 2002; Norberg and Cumming, 2008). In addition, there is a need to explicitly study many-way interactions among human decision makers and water bodies to inform effective policy decisions. Our research team has been effectively tackling these important goals.

Funding sources: MSU-Center for Water Sciences (CWS) Postdoctoral Grant Program; MSU-CWS and Environmental Science and Policy Program (ESPP) Innovation Grant Program