Expressions of interest are being sought for four new PhD positions, for commencement in 2011 (details to be negotiated). Please register your interest and send your CV to Joern Fischer (Joern.Fischer@uni.leuphana.de , also see https://sites.google.com/site/joernfischerspage/). Do not send complete applications at this stage.
Unprecedented global change poses an urgent challenge to humanity because it threatens ecosystems and human well- being, especially in poor countries. We will implement a transdisciplinary research agenda to foster sustainable development in ancient agricultural landscapes in Central Romania. The area is fascinating because ancient agricultural practices without machinery or artificial fertilisers have maintained unusually high biodiversity, from large carnivores to rare orchids. Following its recent inclusion in the European Union, Central Romania now faces a delicate balancing act between the aspirations of local people for greater economic prosperity and the region’s unique heritage values. You will be part of a team involving natural scientists, social scientists and regional stakeholders. We will map biodiversity and the ecosystem services generated by it, and will identify formal and informal institutions that can provide leverage points for enabling sustainable land use practices.
The project is funded through a Sofja Kovalevskaja Award by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (through funds by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research). Visit https://sites.google.com/site/landscapefutures/Home
PhD 1: The future of birds and large carnivores
Primary focus: ecology. This component will gather data on birds and large carnivores, will map their distribution, quantify habitat relationships, and analyse likely changes under different scenarios of future development. Methods will include field surveys, statistical modelling, and GIS applications.
PhD 2: The future of plants and butterflies
Primary focus: ecology. The study area is exceptionally rich in plants and butterflies. This component will gather original field data, will map the distribution of the groups, quantify habitat relationships, and analyse likely changes under different development scenarios. Methods will include field surveys, statistical modelling, and GIS applications.
PhD 3: Cultural ecosystem services and historical changes
Primary focus: social sciences, humanities. This component will analyse land use changes since the middle ages, and will quantify the cultural benefits that people derive from nature. The possible impacts of different future trajectories on the provision of cultural ecosystem services will be assessed. Methodology will be broad and flexible, potentially including literature reviews, analysis of historical sources (e.g. old maps), interviews and workshops with local people, and GIS analysis. Experience with some of these methods, and ability to speak Romanian, will be advantages.
PhD 4: Changes in institutional arrangements
Primary focus: social sciences. This component will analyse informal and formal institutions, and their dynamic changes in the past – with a particular emphasis on recent changes since Romania joined the European Union. How can institutional arrangements foster the sustainable development of the region? Methods are flexible, including participatory methods with local people, and analysis of official policy documents (e.g. regarding EU agri-environment schemes).
This well-funded project includes collaborative links with St. Andrews University, Cambridge University, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and the Mihai Eminescu Trust (Romania). All components will be theoretically grounded in a shared conceptual framework of ecosystem services, resilience theory, and social-ecological systems analysis. The research team will also involve more senior scientists who will focus on other, complementary aspects.
Resilience thinking and optimization are often viewed as opposites, but resilience thinking is more critical of how optimization is frequently applied rather than the technique per-se. A new paper in TREE Integrating resilience thinking and optimisation for conservation (doi:10.1016/j.tree.2009.03.020) by Joern Fischer and others, including myself, attempt to integrate resilience thinking and optimization. We propose that by actively embedding optimisation analyses within a resilience-thinking framework ecosystem management could draw on the complementary strengths of both, thereby promoting cost-effective and enduring conservation outcomes.
The paper’s Table 1 provides an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of optimization for conservation and resilience thinking:
||Optimisation for conservation
|Strengths (inherent)||Recognises resource scarcity||Recognises system complexity|
|Encourages transparency in resource allocation||Recognises interdependence of social and biophysical systems|
|Strengths (in practice)||Can provide specific answers to a well-defined problem||Encourages anticipation of undesirable surprises or thresholds|
|Fits well with how business and governments operate||Encourages reflection on how a system works|
|Weaknesses (inherent)||Sensitive to accuracy of underlying assumptions and system model||Potentially difficult to apply to systems without identifiable alternate states|
|Weaknesses (in practice)||Targets or budget constraints are often informed by politics rather than an in-depth understanding of underlying system dynamics||Reliant on tools from other disciplines to be operational to inform policy|
|The term ‘optimal’ can sound absolute to policymakers and the general public||The term ‘resilience’ can appear vague to policymakers and the general public|
And we discuss three themes that both approaches need to address (i) dealing with social issues; (ii) dealing with uncertainties and the limited extent to which they can be controlled; and (iii) avoiding undesirable states that constrain reversibility.