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From 2005 to 2022, the main node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies was headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland (Australia)

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Integrating social theory and ecosystem services


Friday, 22 March 2013; 11:00 to 12:00 hrs.

Building 19 (Kevin Stark Research Building) Room #106 (upstairs), JCU, Townsville.
Christina Hicks, James Cook University.

Abstract: People receive a range of benefits from nature, which are often referred to as ecosystem services. Ecosystem service science has gained tremendous institutional support, influencing research programs and environmental policy but has failed to engage with many of the social sciences. My research therefore draws on political science, social psychology, and welfare economics, to develop a better understanding of how people value ecosystem services, and how these values influence the way in which people are likely to respond to environmental or policy change.  I develop an analytical framework incorporating values, social context, and behavior and apply it to four countries in the western Indian Ocean: Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Seychelles. I ask: 1) how have ecosystem service values been measured to date? 2) how do different resource users value ecosystem service benefits? and how are these values structurally related? and 3) what determines the distribution of ecosystem service benefits between different sectors of society? I find that a diversity of ecosystem services have been ‘valued’ (i.e. assessed in monetary terms), but that different services tend to be ‘valued’ using fundamentally incomparable methods, and studies tend to focus on one or two services at a time. Thus comparisons cannot be made across study, or service, highlighting a need for ecosystem service assessments to measure multiple ecosystem services and employ similar methods. I also find that ecosystem services tend to be prioritized in a consistent manner both across stakeholder group and geographic scale. However, stakeholders perceive different bundles and tradeoffs associated with these values. Importantly, people’s motivational goals for valuing ecosystem services align with the most commonly used measures of value-types from social psychology. Consequently, ecosystem service values are structurally related which lends insight to why trade-offs occur. Finally, I find that the ability of people to benefit from discrete bundles of ecosystem services is determined by access rather than solely supply. My PhD has thus highlighted the importance of incorporating social theory into ecosystem service science and the critical importance of addressing bundles and trade-offs in people’s ecosystem service values.

Biography: Christina is an interdisciplinary social scientist working to develop sustainable, equitable, and efficient approaches to managing coastal resources. Christina worked as a fisheries scientist for Dr T.R. McClanahan in Kenya and completed her master’s degree at Newcastle University in the UK. Christina is currently completing a PhD at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies with co-supervision from the Business School. Christina is supervised by Prof T.P. Hughes, Dr J.E. Cinner, Prof N. Stoeckl, and Prof R. Pressey. Christina’s PhD research integrates theory and methods from economics, psychology, political science, and fisheries science to examine how people’s values and social context influence how they are likely to respond to environmental or policy change.


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