Landscape sustainability and the landscape ecology of institutions

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Mar 09, 2020
Graeme S. Cumming & Graham Epstein



Context – Landscape sustainability emerges from interactions between linked human and natural systems. Many of these interactions are mediated by institutions (e.g., rules, laws, customs, traditions), most of which are themselves spatially defined entities that both generate and respond to spatial variation in the landscape. However, the spatial dynamics of the interplay between institutions and landscape heterogeneity are poorly understood.

Objective – To define the landscape ecology of institutions as an emerging research field, providing a summary of key themes and frontiers.

Methods – We draw on existing theory in both landscape ecology and institutional analysis to explore the interface between landscape ecology and institutions in social-ecological systems.

Results – Three central themes in understanding landscape sustainability through an institutional lens include the role of landscape heterogeneity as a driver of institutions; the spatial properties of institutions as influences on ecological and socioeconomic processes; and the relationships between institutions and landscape resilience. Emerging frontiers for further research include understanding the roles of top-down vs bottom up processes (design vs. emergence); understanding landscapes as institutional filters; the role of landscapes in institutional development and change; and co-evolutionary dynamics between landscapes and institutions. We discuss each of these points in detail.

Conclusions – Spatially mediated feedbacks between landscape structure and institutions are poorly understood and critical for landscape sustainability. Further research in this area will depend heavily on generating data sets that describe the spatial properties of institutions and allow them to be analysed as landscape features.

Article published in Landscape Ecology.


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