Protected areas as social-ecological systems: Perspectives from resilience and social-ecological systems theory

Graeme S. Cumming, Craig R. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Conservation biology and applied ecology increasingly recognize that natural resource management is both an outcome and a driver of social, economic, and ecological dynamics. Protected areas offer a fundamental approach to conserving ecosystems, but they are also social-ecological systems whose ecological management and sustainability are heavily influenced by people. This editorial, and the papers in the invited feature that it introduces, discuss three emerging themes in social-ecological systems approaches to understanding protected areas: (1) the resilience and sustainability of protected areas, including analyses of their internal dynamics, their effectiveness, and the resilience of the landscapes within which they occur; (2) the relevance of spatial context and scale for protected areas, including such factors as geographic connectivity, context, exchanges between protected areas and their surrounding landscapes, and scale dependency in the provision of ecosystem services; and (3) efforts to reframe what protected areas are and how they both define and are defined by the relationships of people and nature. These emerging themes have the potential to transform management and policy approaches for protected areas and have important implications for conservation, in both theory and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1709-1717
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • complexity
  • connectivity
  • conservation
  • institution
  • management
  • national park
  • natural resources
  • policy
  • protected areas as socioecological systems
  • scale
  • sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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