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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 409-419

Integrating Conservation and Sustainable Development Through Adaptive Co-management in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves

1 Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, Brock University, Ontario, Canada
2 Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm, Sweden
3 School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, University Ave W, Ontario, Canada

Correspondence Address:
Julia Baird
Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, Brock University, Ontario
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_17_58

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Date of Web Publication27-Sep-2018


Integrating conservation and sustainable development is difficult, but organisations charged with this mandate must move forward with implementation. Adaptive Co-Management (ACM), an approach that brings together the learning function of adaptation with the linking function of collaboration, has been identified as a promising way to enhance the effectiveness of sustainable development without compromising conservation efforts. We examine four UNESCO Biosphere Reserves (BRs) to better understand the extent to which they exhibit characteristics of ACM integrated conservation and sustainable development and gain insights into how they do so. We find that the BRs we studied in Canada and Sweden undertake a substantial number of activities strongly oriented towards integration of conservation and development objectives. These activities involve a wide variety of actors in both on-the-ground implementation efforts and decision-making activities, create novel spaces for interaction among participants which contributes to their bridging ability, and draw on social networks, available assets and individuals' contributions to enable actions in pursuit of their integrative mandate. Insights into these activities and how they were undertaken can offer lessons for future practice and research within the World Biosphere Reserve Network, as well as conservation organisations more broadly. Although we demonstrate that significant efforts are being made towards integration of conservation and development, we nonetheless suggest that further studies should explicitly investigate if and how such integration actually lead to more desirable social and ecological outcomes.

Keywords: adaptive co-management, biosphere reserves, conservation, sustainable development

How to cite this article:
Baird J, Plummer R, Schultz L, Armitage D, Bodin O. Integrating Conservation and Sustainable Development Through Adaptive Co-management in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. Conservat Soc 2018;16:409-19

How to cite this URL:
Baird J, Plummer R, Schultz L, Armitage D, Bodin O. Integrating Conservation and Sustainable Development Through Adaptive Co-management in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2018 [cited 2020 Jul 2];16:409-19. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2018/16/4/409/235831

   Introduction Top

Aims of conservation and development are historically opposed and, despite efforts over the past two decades to reconcile these aims (Brown 2002; Wilshusen et al. 2002), ongoing debates and tensions exist (Tallis and Lubchenco 2014). Win-win situations are notoriously challenging to achieve (Tallis et al. 2008; McShane et al. 2011), with human and institutional issues gaining recent recognition as barriers (e.g., Brown 2002; Sayer 2009; Sayer et al. 2013). Nevertheless, organisations on the frontlines (i.e., organisations that take on this challenge directly) need to move forward with implementation for conservation and sustainable development. In this study, we seek to better understand how organisations work towards integrating conservation and sustainable development.

Biosphere Reserves (BRs) are one such context with the dual mandate of conservation and sustainable development (Axelsson et al. 2011; Coetzer et al. 2014). The BR concept originates from UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme and its evolution as well as worldwide uptake are well documented (see Batisse 1982; Price 2002; Price et al. 2010; Coetzer et al. 2014). At present, there are 669 BRs in 120 countries around the world (UNESCO 2017). As set out in the Seville Strategy (UNESCO 1996) and supported in the Madrid and Lima Action Plans (UNESCO 2008; UNESCO 2016), BRs address three complementary functions of conservation, sustainable development, and logistical support (e.g., education, research). Here, sustainable development is defined as fostering “economic and human development which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable” UNESCO (1996: 18) and is recognised as a need across the globe. The contradictions between the reality of BRs and the programme's criteria was recognised in the Statutory Framework of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) (UNESCO 1996). While the intent of reconciling protection of the environment with development is conceptually appealing, it is a challenge in practice “… with few examples successfully conforming to the model's full criteria” (Coetzer et al. 2014: 82). However, BRs offer ‘learning sites’ to derive knowledge about implementation of sustainable development, and specifically to gain insights into human-centred approaches to conservation.

Collaborative and adaptive approaches to natural resources management offer an entry point for our investigation as they often concern how stakeholders engage in conservation and sustainable development. Adaptive Co-Management (ACM), as it is often referred, is a dynamic and iterative process by which actors connect (linking horizontally and vertically) and engage in shared learning-by-doing to address place specific issues of sustainability (Olsson et al. 2004a; Folke et al. 2005; Armitage et al. 2007; Plummer et al. 2012). While ACM research has occurred in relation to a variety of resource and environment issues, scholarship in the context of BRs is especially pertinent to our investigation. Foundational to this intersection are studies of how the Kristianstads Vattenrike area of Sweden became a BR and how it operates, which have generated extensive insights about the concept of ACM (see Olsson et al. 2004b, 2007; Olsson 2007; Schultz 2009). Schultz et al. (2011) examined the relationship between presence of ACM practices and management performance in terms of development and conservation in BRs. The survey of the WNBR by Schultz et al. (2011) found BRs that exhibited ACM characteristics to be associated with greater effectiveness in achieving goals of sustainable development (i.e., economics and social development, facilitating dialogue), without detracting from biodiversity conservation than BRs that did not exhibit characteristics of ACM. Accordingly, ACM is demonstrated as an approach that can facilitate a dual mandate of conservation and sustainable development and we use it her to investigate how integration may occur in greater detail in a selected number of BRs.

We draw on the diagnostic framework of Plummer et al. (2014; 2017a) where activities, and the practices that enable them, form the first of three key overarching variables in ACM [Figure 1]. Activities are the primary mechanism for involvement of stakeholders in ACM, and as such as critical to the approach. They offer a way to link stakeholders to governance processes, and to outcomes and ongoing stakeholder engagement in ACM is likely to be influenced by feedbacks from perceived outcomes (Plummer et al. 2017b). This framework and the data collected for this study are part of the project “Diagnosing processes and outcomes in social-ecological systems: a systematic, cross-case comparison of adaptive co-management initiatives” (Plummer et al. 2014).
Figure 1: Conceptual framework (adapted from Plummer et al. 2014; 2017a)

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The following questions guided our research in BRs and make operational the aim of better understanding how organisations using ACM work towards integration of conservation and sustainable development. Further, we explore how they utilise attributes and practices associated with ACM in this regard: 1) What activities are undertaken as part of managing and governing the BR— 1.1) do these activities align with the goal(s) of conservation, sustainable development or both (i.e. integrated)? 1.2) what is the orientation of these activities and who are the participants? 2) How do BRs use features of ACM to facilitate integration of conservation and sustainable development?

   Materials and Methods and Case Study Context Top

Four BRs were selected for this research — two in Canada (Frontenac Arch [FABR] and Georgian Bay [GBBR]) and two in Sweden (Kristianstads Vattenrike [KVBR] and Östra Vätterbranterna [ÖVBR]). These BRs were selected for three reasons — 1) each of the BRs was designated in the post-Seville era and as such are mandated by UNESCO (1996) to actively engage people at a regional scale to reconcile conservation and sustainable development; 2) each of the cases exhibited characteristics of ACM (Schultz et al. 2011) that support both conservation and sustainable development aims: their guiding vision included social and ecological aspects, adaptation of governance and practices was evident and based on ecosystem monitoring, and governance processes included actors from at least two different decision-making levels. Thus, they each represent comparable ACM approaches. 3) they were comparable in terms of their size and situation in high-income countries, which held as much variability outside of the BR processes as similar as possible.

The FABR was designated in 2002 and is situated in Ontario, Canada along the St. Lawrence Seaway and at the intersection of five distinct forested areas, which results in a high degree of biodiversity and plays an important role in maintaining habitat connectivity. The FABR has experienced strong pressures from development historically but retained much of the natural features of the region. The FABR has a population of 80,000 in 2,700 km2. It is organised as a not-for-profit governmental organisation with an Executive Director and Board of Directors.

The GBBR was designated in 2004 and is also situated in Ontario, Canada, along the eastern coast of Georgian Bay (3,470 km2). It is the world's largest freshwater archipelago and is commonly referred to as the 30,000 islands. It is a region with much biodiversity (with at least 100 species at risk [Georgian Bay Littoral Biosphere Reserve Committee 2004]) as a result of the many habitat types found within the bounds of the BR. Cottagers and outdoor enthusiasts frequent this region, with the relatively low population of the BR (6,000) increasing 25 times over the summer months. The BR is organised as a not-for-profit governmental organisation with two co-managers, a varying number of staff depending on funding and projects, and a Board of Directors.

KVBR, designated as a BR in 2005, is located in southern Sweden in a region of 1,044 km2 that is very diverse: it includes wetlands, grasslands, lakes, rivers and a coastline. It is also home to at least 22 species on the global red list (Magnusson et al. 2003). This BR has a population of 70,000 and includes the city of Kristianstad, as well as areas of agriculture and forestry activities. The BR is organised as a municipal organisation supported by 16 paid employees (including those working at a visitor centre) and volunteers (e.g., ‘biosphere ambassadors') and a consultation council of 30 members.

ÖVBR was designated in 2012. It is located in central southern Sweden, along the bank of Lake Vättern, and is characterised by its steeply sloped landscape that supports forests and agricultural land. The population is 40,000 and it is 1,055 km2 in size. The BR nomination was used, in part (and successfully), as a mechanism to maintain a platform for dialogue and collective action among conservation and landowner groups who had previously engaged in intense conflict (Jonegård et al. 2011). The BR is organised as a partnership between the municipality and a non-governmental organisation with a full-time municipal employee and four part-time secretariat employees, as well as numerous volunteer biosphere ambassadors and a Board of Directors.

Plummer et al. (2014) argue that looking for on-the-ground activities and related practices is an initial step to diagnosing ACM (i.e., to identify the ‘symptoms’ of ACM, similar to how a medical doctor would diagnose a patient), with the goal of identifying the attributes of ACM that lead to effective outcomes and discuss how this may be done in reference to BRs. ‘Activities’ constitute what is being done ‘on the ground’. Theyinclude initiatives and events that are undertaken as part of managing and governing the BR. They may be associated with assessment, planning, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and decision-making. In BRs, some activities relate to biodiversity conservation, some to sustainable development, and some relate to both (Schultz et al. 2011). Here, we capture the range of activities BRs engage in to understand where and in what ways conservation and sustainable development may be integrated. Specifically, we focus on preparation of documentation for UNESCO, practical actions on the landscape, monitoring, social events, mapping, management and planning, and, governance.

In addition to studying what is being done ‘on the ground’, we investigate what BR organisations draw upon to enable these activities. Firstly, BRs often act as a bridging organisation (e.g., Hahn et al. 2006; Olsson et al. 2007; Berkes 2009; Schultz 2009) and “…provide an arena for learning as well as a space where trust building and conflict resolution can be achieved and where bridges can be built between science, other forms of knowledge, government, and nongovernmental actors” (Crona and Parker 2012: online). Hence, we investigate the spaces for interaction that BRs provide. Secondly, we investigate variables that the ACM literature has identified as influential in shaping activities: assets employed (capitals); roles of individuals; attributes of individuals; and properties of networks (Plummer 2009).

Data collection

BR managers were invited to participate in the project and shared names and contact information of those engaged in BR governance. The managers lived and worked in their respective BRs, and all but one (FABR) were paid for their work as managers. All individuals identified by the managers were invited to participate in an initial structured interview, called a social-ecological inventory (Schultz et al. 2007). Respondents provided information about their motivations for joining the BR, the nature of activities they engaged in related to the BR as a part of the inventory and identified anyone else they considered important in BR governance. If an individual was identified by more than one respondent, that individual was also invited to participate in the social-ecological inventory. Those who participated in the social-ecological inventory were invited to a workshop where a questionnaire was administered. The questionnaire queried respondent type (i.e., primary affiliation), and the specific kinds of activities individuals engaged in as a result of their involvement in the BR. All respondents were categorised as one of four stakeholder types: 1) local users and inhabitants, 2) politicians and administrators, 3) scientists, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and 4) volunteers. Finally, BR managers participated in a semi-structured ‘deep interview’ where managers provided detailed reflections on the history of the BR and their engagement with it, the variables that led to the success of a project, or challenges that arose, and skills needed as a BR manager. The number of responses to the questionnaire were: FABR n = 14; GBBR n = 21; KVBR n = 24; ÖVBR n = 19. When considering all the instruments used to collect data (social-ecological inventory, questionnaire and deep interviews), the number of responses in each BR were: FABR n = 19; GBBR n = 32; KVBR n = 41; ÖVBR n = 26.

Data treatment and analysis

All data collected from these instruments were responses to open questions and thus qualitative in nature. Data were imported into NVivo 10 (QSR International) for coding. Activities respondents engaged in related to the BR were identified from the questionnaire. These responses were coded according to the seven activity categories defined in the questionnaire and frequencies of activities of each type were calculated and reported. Activities reported in the questionnaire were also measured in terms of their nature: implementation-type activities or decision-making activities (or both or neither). All activities reported in the questionnaire were thus coded using a code book developed by the researchers (see Appendix S1). Coding in all cases was undertaken in a single round and was deductive (Krippendorff 2013). These activities were reported in relation to the frequency by stakeholder type. Spaces for interaction and associated influential variables were identified from responses to the social-ecological inventory, questionnaire, and detailed interviews. Responses from detailed interviews with BR managers and stakeholders about the social-ecological inventories were used to provide context and quotes for the results.

   Results Top

Activities undertaken as part of managing and governing the BR

A logical entry point to the research was to assess the activities undertaken as part of managing and governing the BR. Participation by respondents in activities was initially assessed based on the number of times activities within seven categories of actions common to BRs, defined a priori, were mentioned, as well as the number and percentage of respondents in each BR who indicated their involvement in the activities [Table 1].
Table 1: Number of times activities were identified by respondents, and number and percentage of respondents who identified each in parentheses

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Overall, respondents in all four BRs similarly engaged in a substantive number and range of activities. The fewest number of respondents contributed to the preparation of BR related materials for UNESCO in FABR and KVBR, while other categories with lower participation levels were projects involving monitoring and mapping. Two categories of activities that many respondents engaged in across all BRs were practical actions on the landscape and social events. Practical actions on the landscape encompass large scale initiatives such as data collection for multiple organisations and agencies in the FABR and restoration of cultural landscapes in KVBR and ÖVBR, as well as small-scale initiatives such as development of a community garden in the GBBR. Social events were convened for multiple purposes, including fundraising (GBBR) and learning/promotional opportunities (all BRs). Many respondents also engaged in activities related to management and planning, although to a lesser extent in Swedish than Canadian BRs. Governance activities such as engagement in advisory councils and steering committees were more commonly mentioned in FABR and ÖVBR than in GBBR and KVBR.

Each of the studied BRs was designated in the post-Seville era and as such “…should strive to be sites of excellence to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development on a regional scale” (UNESCO 1996: 16). Activities in any of the seven categories could be classified as conservation, sustainable development, or both and the classifications of activities in each BR [Table 1] is illustrated in [Figure 2]. The Statutory Framework of the WNBR (UNESCO 1996) emphasises combining these functions, and participation in activities in the BRs appear to be strongly integrated. In most BRs, the majority of activities reported addressed both functions.
Figure 2: Activities undertaken by BRs

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As frontline organisations working towards conservation and sustainable development, the BRs undertake a wide variety of activities. In almost all cases, stakeholders engaged in both implementation and decision-making activities, but more often mentioned their involvement in implementation activities [Table 2]. NGOs and volunteers tended to mention participation in activities of both types more than other groups in Canada (and were also the most numerous in these BRs), while participation in activity types were more evenly distributed among stakeholder types in Sweden.
Table 2: Number of stakeholders and average number of times each stakeholder type mentioned engagement in each category of BR activities

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How BRs use features of ACM to facilitate integration of conservation and sustainable development

All potentially influential variables (see Appendix S1 for list and description) were identified by at least one BR and most variables were identified from the responses of all four BRs [Table 3]. Here, we highlight some of the variables identified most frequently. Spaces for interaction were identified by a majority of respondents in all BRs. Respondents from the GBBR in particular discussed spaces for interaction a lot: “At a recent meeting (---) I said in my (---) opening remarks, that the biosphere reserve today is going to be the table around which you gather to discuss your common interests and strengths and can devise new partnerships” (GBBR co-manager). Other spaces for interaction identified included an art gallery (GBBR), the kitchen table (FABR), a university (FABR), steering committee meetings (KVBR), and biosphere ambassador meetings (ÖVBR).
Table 3: Frequency of practices, endogenous and exogenous factors in ACM

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Two capitals emerged as particularly important for enabling activities and operating their organisations in a manner that integrated conservation and development objectives [Table 3]. Social capital emerged as a reason for joining the BR (e.g., to enhance it, or to take advantage of social capital that existed already) and the role of those engaged in BR governance to build in the community and beyond. Natural capital was identified by KVBR more often than in other BRs, including frequent mentioning of the high biodiversity as well as the aesthetic and recreational values of the cultural landscapes. The manager of KVBR emphasised the importance of natural capital in the biosphere reserve: “this is the core and the basis, to have these high natural values and to maintain them”.

Adopting the role of ‘networker’ emerged as a theme relatively often in all BRs. In particular, BR managers identified the importance of taking on this role to enable action and to facilitate collaboration. For example, “We have to find a way to make it happen. We can't do it ourselves, alone.” (FABR manager), and “I often use the metaphor of us being a spider in the web…it's very helpful when people understand the biosphere reserve as an organisation that is bringing people together…” (GBBR co-manager). In the GBBR, other roles that were identified often included knowledge carrier and interpreter, described by the co-managers in terms of their ability to educate others in the community about the BR and to create buy-in. The role of steward and leader was also often identified in the Swedish BRs, for example “He is a true enthusiast. Competent. A real mediator who has seen the goal ahead at all times (---) and who has been incredibly important for this work” (OVBR).

Experiences emerged as an attribute of individuals identified most often by respondents [Table 3]. Drawing on past experience of conflict resolution was highlighted by several respondents in OVBR, while transfer of experience was identified both in KVBR and by the GBBR co-manager:

“when I think about management training for some of our junior staff – succession planning – I'm interested in, what are the important pieces about understanding the biosphere reserve model? How much exposure do they need to other biosphere reserves in Canada or internationally to start comparing their work and also sharing it but also being inspired by other ideas…”.

Capacity and leadership were also mentioned by several respondents in most BRs. In terms of capacity of organisations, funding emerged as an important concern in FABR, while in GBBR the focus of BR managers in this regard was on building capacity, particularly in sustainable development. Leadership was an attribute that was described in terms of guiding and supporting others' competencies (GBBR). In both OVBR and KVBR, leadership was described as giving people space to develop and grow and acknowledging their contributions to the BRs achievements.

BRs clearly provide a mechanism to bring diverse interests/goals (such as conservation and sustainable development) together through engagement in activities and connect people with similar interests to take action in a specific area. Properties of networks were commonly mentioned in all BRs, and in particular there seemed to be a focus on network links. The focus on networks, especially evident by BR managers, coincides with the importance placed on the role ‘networker’: “We were just wiring in the walls. All the other organisations are all the bright lights…” (FABR manager). In KVBR, networks were described as tailored to each specific project, involving individuals and organisations who were interested in contributing to the specific issue, and who had something to bring to the table. The focus on networks was also evident in terms of how activities were approached; for example, the GBBR brought people together with a common interest in gardening and facilitated connections among them through a workshop and a community garden. Network connectivity was more prevalent in the responses from Canadian respondents, and included descriptions of how networks were formed, including diverse networks and networks of those with similar interests. For example:

“[The Biosphere Action Group] has had peaks and flows but has found again a pretty strong core group of folks that are interested in that issue and that wouldn't have existed but for the network of folks interested in those kinds of issues, they can be facilitated by staff and certain volunteers through the adviser reserve.” (GBBR co-manager).

Network centrality was most often mentioned in the GBBR and included descriptions of core groups of individuals with specific interests engaged in the BR, including a core group of staff.

   Discussion Top

Integrating conservation and sustainable development is difficult in any context, and BRs are not immune to this challenge (Batisse 1997; Ma et al. 2009; Coetzer et al. 2014). In this research, we entered the question of integration by first focusing on the activities that occur and their alignment with the goals of BRs. Reconciling these functions occurs in most activities reported in BRs studied (between 44% (FABR) and 77% (GBBR)) see [Figure 1]. The programmes and activities offered by the FABR tend to be more focused on one function or the other. For example, the Local Flavours programme aims to support local agricultural producers and food outlets while others focus specifically on conservation initiatives (e.g., FAB Conservation). Many respondents also highlighted their roles in clean-up efforts and biological monitoring (Frontenac Arch Biosphere Network n.d.).

The active engagement of stakeholders (local users and inhabitants, politicians and administrators, scientists, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and volunteers) is essential to the BR concept, as highlighted in Article 4 (UNESCO 1996). Connections in the literature have been made between this particular feature of BRs and the shift towards participatory conservation/community-based natural resources management (e.g., Stoll-Kleemann and Welp 2008; Stoll-Kleemann et al. 2010; Schultz et al. 2011). This aspect of the BR concept is reflected in our query about the participants in these activities. Our results reveal the extent to which participation occurs in the BRs in terms of stakeholder type and engagement with decision-making and implementation activities ([Table 2]; [Figure 1]; Appendix S1). Our analysis reveals that stakeholders of all types participate in activities that contribute to both conservation and sustainable development objectives. This finding is consistent with the survey of BRs by Schultz et al. (2011) where stakeholder participation was found to expand focus and improve efforts where conservation is linked to development.

Furthermore, the results of our research show that multiple stakeholder types engage in both implementation and decision-making activities in all BRs, and that in relation to both types, BRs enable action by creating important spaces for stakeholder interactions [Table 2]. For example, respondents identified community events and workshops (implementation activities), and BR board meetings (decision-making activities) as common spaces for meaningful interaction. Engagement of diverse actors through the creation of spaces for stakeholder interaction is essential to foster opportunities that connect actors vertically and horizontally, build trust, knowledge co-production, and facilitate adaptive action (Berkes 2009; Schultz 2009). Our results show that the BRs in our study have made efforts to create these spaces.

Some of the influential variables [Table 3], drawn from the ACM literature, were particularly important for understanding how activities were strategically enabled. While spaces for diverse actors were affirmed as essential, it is clear that space itself is not sufficient for the success of the BR in integrating conservation and sustainable development. Accordingly, this research provides awareness as to the means for strategically enabling activities in the BRs (i.e., how specific variables that emerged as important in this study may be drawn upon). For example, in the context of creating spaces for interaction, drawing upon social capital, performing the role of ‘networker’ and leveraging experience emerged as particularly valuable. These important variables demonstrate how BRs engage in a wide range of activities, including those that integrate conservation and sustainable development. The BRs act as: 1) a mechanism to bring diverse interests/goals (such as conservation and sustainable development) together to engage in activities consistent with their mandate, and 2) a mechanism to connect people with similar interests to take action in a specific area. Other influential variables of note support these two functions. Experience is critical as it promotes a deep understanding of the context in which the BRs and their activities are situated. Leadership and capacity speak to the ways in which the BRs, and their activities, are supported. These means coincide with many of the influential variables synthesised from the ACM literature by Plummer (2009). The descriptions offered by participants, particularly the BR managers, offer insights into how many of these variables shape organisational process and enable activities in pursuit of conservation and sustainable development.

Documentation of the practices and their salience in the cases highlight a valuable opportunity for lesson learning within the WBRN. Stoll-Kleemann et al. (2010) argue that BR managers have power and responsibility for bringing about critical transformations locally by revisiting and adjusting their practices. Based on their two parallel surveys involving the WNBR, they identify eight practices for BR managers. The findings from our research provide evidence that many of these practices are actively being employed, and we speculate that their synergistic effects are particularly important. Specifically, 1) knowledge exchange was fostered within the BRs (and beyond them) by creating spaces for interaction, thus acting as bridging organisations; 2) actions were coordinated with the dual goals of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, with between 38% and 77% of activities including both goals [Figure 1]; and, 3) local communities were engaged in activities [Table 2], and these local actors made contributions to both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development activities in all cases. In detailing these practices, this research affords BR managers within the WBRN opportunities to learn about ways to move forward with their mandate.

   Conclusion Top

This study deepens understanding of how organisations integrate conservation and sustainable development and affirms the promise of BRs as sites of integration (Axelsson et al. 2011; Coetzer et al. 2014). We contribute here clearly documented cases of efforts being made towards integration through activities. The BRs we studied in Canada and Sweden engage diverse actors in activities spanning implementation and decision making, they act as bridging organisations by creating spaces of interaction for diverse actors, and they draw upon influential variables to enable their activities.

Individual BRs represent ‘learning sites for sustainable development’ (Schultz and Lundholm 2010), and comparative analysis among them to foster learning has been emphasised (Coetzer et al. 2014). The BRs included in this project were all able to integrate conservation and sustainable development. This is not always the case, as found in the global review of BRs (see Coetzer et al. 2014). Understanding how some BRs achieve their mandate offers valuable opportunities for others to gain insights into how they may also achieve success in terms of integration.

The four BRs studied were purposefully selected because they exhibit the characteristics of ACM and minimise contextual variability. A logical next step in furthering this research is to investigate BRs that are contextually different and thereby examine the generalisability of the findings to the WNBR. Aspirations to integrate conservation and sustainable development as well as pursue it through ACM are not exclusive to BRs and extending this work beyond the BR context is a logical next step.

The need to conserve biodiversity and foster sustainable development is a persistent concern and the WNBR, through its Lima Action Plan (UNESCO 2016) notes the importance of supporting management strategies to achieve its mandate. Also highlighted in the Lima Action Plan is the importance of learning. The findings of this study offer specific examples of the types of activities and practices that enable integration to other BRs in the world network, in support of success in achieving the mandate of all BRs. We also recognise that the selection criteria for the BRs studied here may limit transferability of findings and suggest that this research be extended to a larger and more diverse sample of BRs to identify the practices and activities that transcend context. In this research we demonstrate substantive efforts towards integration of conservation and development in four specific BRs. Insights about activities, practices and influential variables provides an informed platform from which the question of effectiveness may be further pursued. Investigating if and how such integration actually leads to more desirable social and ecological outcomes is a rich opportunity for future research.

   Acknowledgements Top

We gratefully acknowledge participation in this research by the managers and others from the Frontenac Arch, Georgian Bay, Kristianstads Vattenrike, and Östra Vätterbranterna Biosphere Reserves. Our appreciation is also extended to our colleague, Beatrice Crona, for her constructive insights with conceptualising the research project. Finally, we wish to thank Malena Heinrup, Katrina Krievins, Flor de Luna Estrada and Kerrie Pickering for research assistance.

Financial support

This research has been made possible by funding received from Vetenskapsrådet, the Swedish Research Council (grant number 2012-5498). Further support for researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre comes from a core grant from Mistra.

Conflict of interest


Ethical standards

This research project was approved by the Brock University Research Ethics Board (File number 13-026) and conforms to the protocols therein.

   Appendix S1 Top

1. Activities Coding

2. Practices and influential variables coding

   References Top

Berkes, F. 2004. Rethinking community-based conservation. Conservation Biology 18(3): 621–630.

Crona, B.I. and J.N. Parker. 2012. Learning in support of governance: theories, methods, and a framework to assess how bridging organisations contribute to adaptive resource governance. Ecology and Society 17(1): 32.

Olsson, P., C. Folke, and T. Hahn. 2004. Social-ecological transformation for ecosystem management: the development of adaptive co-management of a wetland landscape in southern Sweden. Ecology and Society 9(4): 2.

Plummer, R. 2009. The adaptive co-management process: an initial synthesis of representative models and influential variables. Ecology and Society 14 (2): 24.

Plummer, R. and D. Armitage. 2007. A resilience-based framework for evaluating adaptive co-management: linking ecology, economics and society in a complex world. Ecological Economics 61(1): 62–74.

Plummer, R., L. Schultz, D. Armitage, Ö. Bodin, B. Crona, and J. Baird. 2014. Developing a diagnostic approach for adaptive co-management and considering its implementation in biosphere reserves. Stockholm: The Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Beijer Discussion Paper Series No. 245.

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UNESCO. 1996. Biosphere Reserves: The Seville Strategy and the Statutory Framework of the World Network. Paris, France: UNESCO.

   References Top

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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