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Journal Articles

How does knowledge infrastructure mobilization influence the safe operating space of regulated exploited ecosystems?

Matthias, J.D., J.M. Anderies and M.A. Janssen

2018 Earth’s Future 6(11): 1555-1567.


Decision makers often have to act before critical times to avoid the collapse of ecosystems using knowledge that can be incomplete or biased. Adaptive management may help managers tackle such issues. However, because the knowledge infrastructure required for adaptive management may be mobilized in several ways, we study the quality and the quantity of knowledge provided by this knowledge infrastructure. In order to analyze the influence of mobilized knowledge, we study how the following typology of knowledge and its use may impact the safe operating space of exploited ecosystems: (1)knowledge of the past based on a time series distorted by measurement errors; (2)knowledge of the current systems’ dynamics based on the representativeness of the decision makers’ mental models of the exploited ecosystem; (3)knowledge of future eventsbased on decision makers’ likelihood estimates of extreme events based on modeling infrastructure (models and experts to interpret them) they have at their disposal. We consider different adaptive management strategies of a general regulated exploited ecosystem model and we characterize the robustness of these strategies to biased knowledge. Our results show that even with significant mobilized knowledge and optimal strategies, imperfect knowledge may still shrink the safe operating space of the system leading to the collapse of the system. However, we also show that in some cases imperfect knowledge may unexpectedly increase the safe operating space by suggesting cautious strategies. We leverage the quantitative results to frame a discussion focusing on the importance of understanding subtleties of how adaptive knowledge mobilization and knowledge infrastructure affect the robustness of exploited ecosystems.


Drylab 2023: Living a possible future with resource scarcity

Janssen, M.A., A. Jenik, S.Z. Tekola, K. Davis, S. Flores, W. Gibbs, M. Koehn, V. Lyons, C. Mallory, S. Rood, S. Guelpa and L.A. Pfister

2018 Ecology & Society 23 (4):8..


We report on an art and sustainability project, inspired by sustainable living and by the work of Elinor Ostrom, in which the authors experienced a not-too-distant future of water scarcity in an isolated location in the Mojave Desert for four weeks. We restricted our water use to ≤ 15.1 L/day (4 gallons) water per person and consumed a water-wise vegan diet. Here, we report and reflect on our experience of this art and sustainability project. We show that, as participants, we had no difficulty adjusting to a resource-scarce environment or living in a remote location. Our experience showed that (temporary) behavioral change is possible to cope with extreme resource scarcity without a net negative effect on the quality of life. Future replications of such art and sustainability projects in safer environments could become spaces for science, art, and innovation for more sustainable lifestyles.


Managing Household Socio-hydrological Risk in Mexico City: A Game to Communicate and Validate Computational Modeling with Stakeholders

Shelton, R., A. Baeza, M.A. Janssen and H. Eakin

2018 Journal of Environmental Management  227: 200-208.


Residents of Mexico City experience major hydrological risks, including flooding events and insufficient potable water access for many households. A participatory modeling project, MEGADAPT, examines hydrological risk as co-constructed by both biophysical and social factors and aims to explore alternative scenarios of governance. Within the model, neighborhoods are represented as agents that take actions to reduce their sensitivity to exposure and risk. These risk management actions (to protect their households against flooding and scarcity) are based upon insights derived from focus group discussions within various neighborhoods. We developed a role-playing game based on the model’s rules in order to validate the assumptions we made about residents’ decision-making given that we had translated qualitative information from focus group sessions into a quantitative model algorithm. This enables us to qualitatively validate the perspective and experience of residents in an agent-based model mid-way through the modeling process. Within the context of described hydrological events and the causes of these events, residents took on the role of themselves in the game and were asked to make decisions about how to protect their households against scarcity and flooding. After the game, we facilitated a discussion with residents about whether or not the game was realistic and how it could be improved. The game helped to validate our assumptions, validate the model with community members, and reinforced our connection with the community. We then discuss the potential further development of the game as a learning and communication tool.


Modelling feedbacks between human and natural processes in the land system

Robinson, D.R., Di Vittorio, A., P. Alexander, A. Arneth, C.M. Barton, D.G. Brown, A. Kettner, C. Lemmen, B. O’Neill, M.A. Janssen, T. Pugh, S.S. Rabin, M. Rounsevell, J. Syvitski, I. Ullah and P.H. Verburg,

2018 Earth System Dynamics 9: 895-914.


The unprecedented use of Earth’s resources by humans, in combination with increasing natural variability in natural processes over the past century, is affecting the evolution of the Earth system. To better understand natural processes and their potential future trajectories requires improved integration with and quantification of human processes. Similarly, to mitigate risk and facilitate socio-economic development requires a better understanding of how the natural system (e.g. climate variability and change, extreme weather events, and processes affecting soil fertility) affects human processes. Our understanding of these interactions and feedback between human and natural systems has been formalized through a variety of modelling approaches. However, a common conceptual framework or set of guidelines to model human–natural-system feedbacks is lacking. The presented research lays out a conceptual framework that includes representing model coupling configuration in combination with the frequency of interaction and coordination of communication between coupled models. Four different approaches used to couple representations of the human and natural system are presented in relation to this framework, which vary in the processes represented and in the scale of their application. From the development and experience associated with the four models of coupled human–natural systems, the following eight lessons were identified that if taken into account by future coupled human–natural-systems model developments may increase their success: (1) leverage the power of sensitivity analysis with models, (2) remember modelling is an iterative process, (3) create a common language, (4) make code open-access, (5) ensure consistency, (6) reconcile spatio-temporal mismatch, (7) construct homogeneous units, and (8) incorporating feedback increases non-linearity and variability. Following a discussion of feedbacks, a way forward to expedite model coupling and increase the longevity and interoperability of models is given, which suggests the use of a wrapper container software, a standardized applications programming interface (API), the incorporation of standard names, the mitigation of sunk costs by creating interfaces to multiple coupling frameworks, and the adoption of reproducible workflow environments to wire the pieces together.


Modeling the decline of labor-sharing in the semi-desert region of Chile

Baeza, A. and M.A. Janssen

2018 Regional Environmental Change. 18(4): 1161-1172.


The rapid environmental changes currently underway in many dry regions of the world, and the deep uncertainty about their consequences, underscore a critical challenge for sustainability: how to maintain cooperation that ensures the provision of natural resources when the benefits of cooperating are variable, sometimes uncertain, and often limited. In this work, we present the case of a group of rural communities in a semi-desert region of Chile, where cooperation in the form of labor-sharing has helped maintain higher agriculture yields, group cohesion, and identity. Today, these communities face the challenge of adapting to recurrent droughts, extreme rainfall, and desertification. We formulated an agent-based model to investigate the consequences of regional climate changes on the fate of these labor-exchange institutions. The model, implemented in the framework of prospect theory, simulates the economic decisions of households to engage, or not, in labor-sharing agreements under different scenarios of water supply, water variability, and socio-environmental risk. Results show that the number of fulfilled labor-sharing agreements is reduced by water scarcity and environmental variability. More importantly, defections that involve non-fulfillment of these agreements are more likely to emerge at the intermediate level of environmental variability and water supply stress. These results underscore the need for environmental policy instruments that consider the effects of regional climate changes on the social dynamics of these communities.


Playing Games to Save Water: Collective Action Games for Groundwater Management in India

Meinzen-Dick, R., M.A. Janssen, S. Kandikuppa, R. Chaturvedi, K. Rao, and S. Theis

2018 World Development 107: 40-53.


Groundwater is one of the most challenging common pool resources to govern, resulting in resource depletion in many areas. We present an innovative use of collective action games to not only measure propensity for cooperation, but to improve local understanding of groundwater interrelationships and stimulate collective governance of groundwater, based on a pilot study in Andhra Pradesh, India. The games simulate crop choice and consequences for the aquifer. These were followed by a community debriefing, which provided an entry point for discussing the interconnectedness of groundwater use, to affect mental models about groundwater. A slightly modified game was played in the same communities, one year later. Our study finds communication within the game increased the likelihood of groups reaching sustainable extraction levels in the second year of play, but not the first. Individual payments to participants based on how they played in the game had no effect on crop choice. Either repeated experience with the games or the revised structure of the game evoked more cooperation in the second year, outweighing other factors influencing behavior, such as education, gender, and trust index scores. After the games were played, a significantly higher proportion of communities adopted water registers and rules to govern groundwater, compared to other communities in the same NGO water commons program. Because groundwater levels are affected by many factors, games alone will not end groundwater depletion. However, games can contribute to social learning about the role of crop choice and collective action, to motivate behavior change toward more sustainable groundwater extraction.


Book Chapters

An agent-based approach to weighted decision making in the spatially and temporally variable South African Palaeoscape

Wren, C.D., C. Atwater, K. Hill, M.A. Janssen, J.C. De Vynck, and C.W. Marean

2018 In Proceedings of the 44th Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology Conference (CAA 2016), edited by Mieko Matsumoto and Espen Uleberg, 507–522, Archaeopress.


Even a simple human foraging system has a large number of moving parts. Foragers require a complex decision making process to effectively exploit the spatially and temporally variable resources in an environment. Here we present an agent-based modelling framework, based in optimal foraging theory, for agent foragers to make mobility and foraging decisions by weighing expected caloric returns against geographic and social factors, and forecasted future return rates. We apply our Paleoscape model to a spatially explicit South African coastal landscape to better understand the human foraging system of the Middle Stone Age, when foragers began systematically exploiting a wide variety of flora and fauna in both terrestrial and inter-tidal environments. We also discuss the broader importance of agent-based models of foraging systems for a wide variety of archaeological research questions.


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