Abstract: Complex interdependencies between social and ecological dynamics underpin many important environmental problems. To account for these complex dynamics, over the past several years my colleagues and I have been developing an interdisciplinary network modelling framework that captures relationships within and between people and nature. This approach leverages cutting edge methodological advances in the network sciences and brings together perspectives from across the natural and social sciences to identify important structural relationships between people and nature that may facilitate or constrain outcomes in social-ecological systems. In this talk, I review the theoretical foundations of this approach and demonstrate its utility in uncovering novel insights at multiple scales through concrete empirical examples. Drawing on population-level data from a Papua New Guinean island, I first demonstrate how complex patterns of social-ecological interdependencies can help to explain adaptive and transformative action in response to climate change impacts by supporting learning, social contagion, and the internalization of social-ecological feedbacks. Next, I present comparative evidence from Kenya that the alignment of social and ecological structures in coral reef fishing communities can lay the foundation for improved coral reef ecosystem conditions by supporting mechanisms that underpin cooperation. This body of work provides important empirical insight demonstrating how social action and resulting social and environmental conditions can be facilitated and/or constrained by complex patterns of relationships that extend across the social-ecological divide.
Biography: Michele is an ARC DECRA Fellow and Senior Research Fellow in the People & Ecosystems Program at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. Her research draws on theories and methods from sociology and economics to contribute a better understanding of the human side of complex environmental problems. Michele has specialized expertise in social network science, which she applies to explore key issues such as: how environmental knowledge spreads through society, how social networks influence environmental behavior, and how social-ecological interactions drive environmental outcomes. Michele obtained her PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental Management and a Graduate Certificate in Ocean Policy from the University of Hawaii in 2015. Since 2015, Michele has held a series of Early Career Research Fellowships from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Australian Research Council focused on social networks, social-ecological interactions, and adaptation in marine ecosystems.