A framework for tracing social-ecological trajectories and traps in intensive agricultural landscapes

Daniel R. Uden, Craig R. Allen, Francisco Munoz-Arriola, Gengxin Ou, Nancy Shank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Charting trajectories toward sustainable agricultural development is an important goal at the food-energy-water-ecosystem services (FEWES) nexus of agricultural landscapes. Social-ecological adaptation and transformation are two broad strategies for adjusting and resetting the trajectories of productive FEWES nexuses toward sustainable futures. In some cases, financial incentives, technological innovations, and/or subsidies associated with the short-term optimization of a small number of resources create and strengthen unsustainable feedbacks between social and ecological entities at the FEWES nexus. These feedbacks form the basis of rigidity traps, which impede adaptation and transformation by locking FEWES nexuses into unsustainable trajectories characterized by control, stability, and efficiency, but also an inability to adapt to disturbances or changing conditions. To escape and avoid rigidity traps and enable sustainability-focused adaptation and transformation, a foundational understanding of FEWES nexuses and their unique trajectories and traps is required. We present a framework for tracing trajectories and traps at the FEWES nexuses of intensive agricultural landscapes. Framework implementation in a case study reveals feedbacks characteristic of rigidity traps, as well as opportunities for modifying and dissolving them. Such place-based understanding could inform sustainable agricultural development at the FEWES nexus of intensive agricultural landscapes worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1646
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 11 2018


  • Agriculture
  • Feedbacks
  • Governance
  • Management
  • Resilience
  • Rigidity
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Sustainable agricultural development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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