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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2012  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 386-387

Environmental Social Science: Human-Environment Interactions and Sustainability

Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Correspondence Address:
Martha Bonilla-Moheno
Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Date of Web Publication3-Jan-2013

How to cite this article:
Bonilla-Moheno M, Aide T M, Alvarez-Berrios NL, Andrade-Nunez MJ, Arache-Martinez AV, Roman GP, Sanchez-Cuervo AM. Environmental Social Science: Human-Environment Interactions and Sustainability. Conservat Soc 2012;10:386-7

How to cite this URL:
Bonilla-Moheno M, Aide T M, Alvarez-Berrios NL, Andrade-Nunez MJ, Arache-Martinez AV, Roman GP, Sanchez-Cuervo AM. Environmental Social Science: Human-Environment Interactions and Sustainability. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2012 [cited 2019 Oct 17];10:386-7. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2012/10/4/386/105562

This book emerges as a response to the increasing need for having an integrative and foundational text on environmental social sciences to understand human-environmental dynamics at different scales. As the title suggests, Environmental Social Science reviews topics from the social and natural sciences relevant to the study of sustainability. The main goal is to provide the reader with the appropriate tools and language to facilitate multidisciplinary research. This book exposes the audience to a variety of approaches of conducting research in the coupled human-natural systems, and encourages scientists to develop truly integrative projects.

Environmental Social Science is organised in eight chapters that summarise general concepts, theories, and methods relevant for environmental social science. Chapter 1 (The Challenge of Human-Environment Interactions Research) presents a comprehensive introduction on human-environmental research, highlighting human alterations to natural systems (e.g., nitrification, climate change, droughts, and floods), and problems associated with the increasing demand of food products and commodities. In addition, it provides a historical account of the development of the human-environmental research agenda, mentioning the role of some relevant institutions and programs, and how this has changed over time. Chapter 1 also introduces the topic of land-use and land-cover change, and reviews the challenges and opportunities of the new integrative discipline. Chapter 2 (Theories and Concepts from the Social Sciences) introduces the major theories of social sciences that are relevant for research on human-environment interactions, and provides a thorough chronological description of the development of this discipline. This chapter provides a thorough literature review and an exhaustive list of references that are of great value for those interested in coupled human-environmental research. The chapter describes theories on the effect of human population on the environment (e.g., Malthusian, non-Malthusian, demographic transition, migration), and how they have changed over time. The chapter emphasises the importance of site-specific studies, as well as longitudinal and household data collection. It also reviews relevant topics for the emerging disciplines, such as historical ecology, landscape ecology, political ecology and cultural ecology. Chapter 3 (Theories and Concepts from the Biological Sciences) reviews relevant concepts from the natural sciences (e.g., evolution, island biogeography, equilibrium and non-equilibrium theories, ecosystem concept). As in Chapter 2, each concept in Chapter 3 is approached chronologically, mentioning the relevant authors, and highlighting their importance for cross-disciplinary research, particularly related to global environmental change. Chapter 4 (Spatially Explicit Approaches) highlights the importance of spatially explicit approaches for analyses of human-environment interactions, emphasising how technological development has advanced research in this area. This chapter reviews the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing, and illustrates their use with a case study of deforestation in the Amazon. Chapter 5 (Multi-scale and Multi-temporal Analysis) examines multi-scale analyses (temporal and spatial) as important components in solving complex environmental problems in land-use/land-cover change research at local, regional, national, and global scales. The chapter is divided into six sections that describe methodological approaches to study multi-scale analysis, such as computer-based simulations and models (IAMs, QCA, GCMs, IMAGE 2), in combination with historical and field studies, and the use of remote sensing and GIS tools. Finally, this chapter highlights the importance of cross-scale interactions between ecological and human systems as a priority in future research. Chapter 6 (Biocomplexity in Ecological Systems) introduces concepts of bio-complexity and adaptative systems, relevant for the development of spatial-explicitly models (e.g., metapopulations, cellular automata, agent-based). The chapter provides a comprehensive introduction on the history of the emergence of founding sources (e.g., Coupled Natural and Human Systems). Chapter 7 (Environmental Decision Making) focuses on the methodological approaches for environmental decision-making, emphasising different levels of behaviour (individual, group, and institutional). Using specific examples such as an individual's decision to recycle or change a land-use practice, the author illustrates how environmental decisions are determined by the social context. The chapter provides a comprehensive review about cost-benefit analysis. In addition, the author describes the social context of environmental decision-making, and provides suggestions to improve environmental governance. Chapter 8 (Towards Sustainability Science) presents a list of priorities to develop sustainability as a science, covering concepts on complexity theory, adaptative management, urban ecology, and climate change. This chapter includes a vast list of multidisciplinary references useful for future research.

The book is well organised and covers topics relevant to environmental social science. The author, Emilio Moran, provides a set of comprehensive concepts from the social and natural sciences that constitute the basis for contemporary research examining human-environment interactions. In addition, he compiles a comprehensive list of literature useful as a starting point for those interested in this area of research. The author provides a valuable summary of studies that have been conducted, studies in progress, and areas of study that need more attention within this emerging discipline. Using his broad expertise on the subject, he provides a basic theoretical background for this emerging discipline. This book aims to inform scientists and graduate and advanced undergraduate students from the natural and social sciences, on environmental conservation and sustainability research. The group reviewing this book includes biologists and environmental scientists (a professor, a post doctoral fellow, and graduate and undergraduate students) working on land-use change, demography, and conservation research; all together a representative sample of the intended audience of the book.

The book presents an excellent collection of important concepts and theories, as well as a comprehensive list of topics relevant for the natural and social sciences. A thorough editing, however, seemed to be missing. While we acknowledge there is a trade-off in the depth and extent devoted to the explanation of disciplinary topics to an audience with different backgrounds, at times we found that trying to cover the important points of this diverse body of knowledge compromised the clarity of ideas. As a result, experts in particular areas may find it incomplete, while people new to these topics will probably find it hard to follow, as some concepts were not explained in a way suitable for all audiences. For example, Chapter 2 would benefit from concrete examples on the important environmental theories, particularly from the author's own research. Similarly, Chapter 3 describes relevant biological concepts and theories in the natural sciences, which could be confusing for non-biologists and undergraduates, while biologists may find the work incomplete (e.g., the review of island biogeography). In addition, Chapter 6 (Biocomplexity in Ecological Systems) introduces key topics in the development of this new discipline, but no examples or guidelines were provided on how to incorporate biocomplexity into social-environmental research. In addition, the final chapter provided few examples and lacked concise conclusions, which would have helped to develop an integral vision of the book.

In general, the style and organisation varies among chapters and readers may find some explanations repetitive or even confusing. For example, the need for multi-scale, multi-temporal, and multi-disciplinary approaches seems repetitive throughout the text (particularly in Chapter 5), while some examples are not clearly explained (e.g., in Chapter 7, the use of recycling as a way to explain the lack of pro-environmental behaviour). In addition, some concepts were not clearly defined before developing specific case studies, e.g., GIS (Chapter 4), qualitative comparative analysis (Chapter 5), agent-base models (Chapter 6). To make these concepts more accessible to the intended audience, it would have been useful to include supplementary material in each chapter, such as a glossary, key points, as well as more subheadings, figures, and tables. In addition, a final concluding chapter, incorporating the main ideas, would have helped to integrate the social and environmental approaches presented in the book.

Environmental Social Science fills an important niche by presenting a relevant collection of topics and key references for conducting interdisciplinary research in the social and the natural sciences. As the author acknowledges in the preface, however, the book should be accompanied with other material in an advanced undergraduate or graduate course.


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