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Research Area: Social Dimensions of Restoration and Ecosystem Services

Social Dimensions of Ecosystem Management and Restoration

What are the goals of ecosystem restoration and who and what does it benefit? 

How do changing landscapes shift trade-offs among cultural ecosystem services?

How can we include stakeholder values when approaching restoration techniques?

New Mexico landscape - Bethany Cutts - College of Natural Resources at NC State University

Society gains countless benefits from ecosystem structures and functions. These benefits, termed ecosystem services, include nutrient cycling, water purification, timber, and food. Undoubtedly, the natural environment provides many intangible benefits or cultural ecosystem services (CES) –ones we recognize as spiritual and aesthetic enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, and recreation opportunities. However, these are often more difficult to incorporate into efforts to restore ecosystems than biophysical functions like food webs or biogeochemical cycles. Restoration efforts risk excluding stakeholder perceptions of CES. Possible implications of such neglect could mean that restoration fosters distrust or contempt for land management agencies or denies land users of their needs, such as recreational opportunities or spiritual satisfaction. An improved model for restoration is one that not only prevents soil erosion, mitigates invasive species, and improves biodiversity.  Effective restoration might also carry sociological benefits that create alliance between local communities and regulating bodies, empower land users, and sustain human well-being.

Envisioned Outcomes

  • Restoration activity on public lands will be better equipped to promote human well-being and beneficial relationships between people and nature
  • Advance methods aimed at anticipating the impact of environmental changes over society
  • Integrate ecological and social sciences to develop new frameworks capable of evaluating the success of restoration activities on multi-functional landscapes


Bethany Cutts

Graduate Students

Maude Dinan

Featured Project: Spatial Congruence between Biodiversity and other Ecosystem Services across Scales in a Managed Landscape Mosaic (Southwestern New Mexico)

Their mission?

This project is part of a larger project funded by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and involving collaborators from the University of Illinois, NM Agricultural Research Service, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Desert rangelands in southwest New Mexico face environmental change from encroachment of invasive species, compromising wildlife habitat and ecosystem services. This project seeks to understand how restoration efforts to this landscape, such as shrub removal through herbicides, affect CES. This research aims to gather and quantify perceived CES from stakeholders in the Chihuahuan desert, where environmental changes to rangelands impact cultural ecosystem services in unknown ways. Collaboration among land planners and stakeholders could improve the conceptualization of CES, enhance indicator quality, and ensure a universal understanding of the values held as a means to integrate them into land management

Through interviews and photo-based methods, the social science research will illuminate the pertinent CES for this specific area, timeframe, and group of people. From this information, trade-offs and priorities for CES will be outlined, allowing for improved restoration planning that maintains the ecology, supports the community, and sustains value for the land.

Why does it matter?

interview by phone
Maude Dinan uses phone and internet methods for interviews that ask participants to map ecosystem services

Dynamic and complex, ecosystems are constantly changing. As environments change, ecosystem services may change as well. Grasping a better understanding of what services exist over temporal and spatial scales will allow for better land management strategies that cater to ecological and human needs. Moreover, including CES in research and integration in management will allow for maximization of benefits. Connection between people and nature is powerful and important. Fostering this relationship will not only benefit human well being, but also provide opportunity for stewardship and protection of nature.

Examples of Recent Publications from PRTM Faculty in the area of Social Dimensions of Ecosystem Management and Restoration

Munden-Dixon, K., Tate, K., Cutts, B. B., & Roche, L. (accepted pending revision). An uncertain future: climate resilience of first-generation ranchers. The Rangelands Journal

McLaughlin, D., & Cutts. B. B. (2018). Neither knowledge deficit nor nimby: understanding opposition to hydraulic fracturing as a nuanced coalition in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (USA). Environmental Management [online ahead of print]. doi: 10.1007/s00267-018-1052-3

Roche, L. M., Schohr, T. K., Derner, J. D., Lubell, M. N., Cutts, B. B., Kachergis, E., Eviner, V. T. & Tate, K. W. (2015). Sustaining working rangelands: insights from rancher decision-making. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 68(5), 383-389. doi:10.1016/j.rama.2015.07.006

Roche, L. M., Cutts, B. B., Derner, J. D., Lubell, M. N., & Tate, K. W. (2015). On-ranch grazing strategies: context for the rotational grazing dilemma. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 68(3), 248-256. doi:10.1016/j.rama.2015.03.011

Kachergis, E., Derner, J. D., Cutts, B. B., Roche, L. M., Eviner, V. T., Lubell, M. N., & Tate, K. W. (2014). Increasing flexibility in rangeland management during drought. Ecosphere, 5(6), art77. doi: 10.1890/ES13-00402.1

Lubell, M. Cutts, B. B., Hamilton, M., Roche, L. M., Schohr, T., Tate, K., Derner, J., Kachergis, E. (2013). Conservation program participation and adaptive rangeland decision-making. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 66(6), 609-620. doi: