Social-ecological change: insights from the Southern African Program on Ecosystem Change and Society

Reinette Biggs*, Hayley S. Clements, Graeme S. Cumming, Georgina Cundill, Alta de Vos, Maike Hamann, Linda Luvuno, Dirk J. Roux, Odirilwe Selomane, Ryan Blanchard, Jessica Cockburn, Luthando Dziba, Karen J. Esler, Christo Fabricius, Rebecka Henriksson, Karen Kotschy, Regina Lindborg, Vanessa A. Masterson, Jeanne L. Nel, Patrick O’FarrellCarolyn G. Palmer, Laura Pereira, Sharon Pollard, Rika Preiser, Robert J. Scholes, Charlie Shackleton, Sheona Shackleton, Nadia Sitas, Jasper A. Slingsby, Marja Spierenburg, Maria Tengö, Belinda Reyers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Social-ecological systems (SES) research has emerged as an important area of sustainability science, informing and supporting pressing issues of transformation towards more sustainable, just and equitable futures. To date, much SES research has been done in or from the Global North, where the challenges and contexts for supporting sustainability transformations are substantially different from the Global South. This paper synthesises emerging insights on SES dynamics that can inform actions and advance research to support sustainability transformations specifically in the southern African context. The paper draws on work linked to members of the Southern African Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (SAPECS), a leading SES research network in the region, synthesizing key insights with respect to the five core themes of SAPECS: (i) transdisciplinary and engaged research, (ii) ecosystem services and human well-being, (iii) governance institutions and management practices, (iv) spatial relationships and cross-scale connections, and (v) regime shifts, traps and transformations. For each theme, we focus on insights that are particularly novel, interesting or important in the southern African context, and reflect on key research gaps and emerging frontiers for SES research in the region going forward. Such place-based insights are important for understanding the variation in SES dynamics around the world, and are crucial for informing a context-sensitive global agenda to foster sustainability transformations at local to global scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-468
JournalEcosystems and People
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • ecosystem services
  • Elena Bennett
  • Global South
  • human well-being
  • social-ecological systems
  • transdisciplinarity
  • transformations


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