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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Describing complex interactions of social-ecological systems for tipping point assessments: an analytical framework

Froese, Rebecca; Andrino, Alberto; Giudice, Renzo; Stuch, Benjamin; Salas, Simone Kilian; Boehner, Jurgen; Boy, Diana; Boy, Jens; Brown, Foster; Garcia, Elisa Diaz; Figueroa, Diana; Froer, Oliver; Guggenberger, Georg; Horn, Marcus A. A.; ul Hasson, Shabeh; Jung, Christopher; Lagneaux, Elisabeth G. G.; Meurer, Katharina H. E.; Cuellar, Claudia Pinzon; Schaldach, Rudiger;
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Humans play an interconnecting role in social-ecological systems (SES), they are part of these systems and act as agents of their destruction and regulation. This study aims to provide an analytical framework, which combines the concept of SES with the concept of tipping dynamics. As a result, we propose an analytical framework describing relevant dynamics and feedbacks within SES based on two matrixes: the "tipping matrix" and the "cross-impact matrix." We take the Southwestern Amazon as an example for tropical regions at large and apply the proposed analytical framework to identify key underlying sub-systems within the study region: the soil ecosystem, the household livelihood system, the regional social system, and the regional climate system, which are interconnected through a network of feedbacks. We consider these sub-systems as tipping elements (TE), which when put under stress, can cross a tipping point (TP), resulting in a qualitative and potentially irreversible change of the respective TE. By systematically assessing linkages and feedbacks within and between TEs, our proposed analytical framework can provide an entry point for empirically assessing tipping point dynamics such as "tipping cascades," which means that the crossing of a TP in one TE may force the tipping of another TE. Policy implications: The proposed joint description of the structure and dynamics within and across SES in respect to characteristics of tipping point dynamics promotes a better understanding of human-nature interactions and critical linkages within regional SES that may be used for effectively informing and directing empirical tipping point assessments, monitoring or intervention purposes. Thereby, the framework can inform policy-making for enhancing the resilience of regional SES.


cross-impact matrix; feedbacks; livelihood strategy; moist convection; social cohesion; soil functional diversity; Southwestern Amazon; tipping matrix

Published in

Frontiers in Climate
2023, Volume: 5, article number: 1145942Publisher: Frontiers Media SA

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

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