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Maria J. Santos

Biodiversity and Social-ecological Co-evolution in the Context of Global Change


The unprecedented rates of biodiversity loss are threatening the functioning and the services that support Earth system processes and livelihoods that depend on them. While global assessments are demonstrating potential collapses in the systems that support carbon cycling, water and nutrient cycling, we lack a detailed assessment on the implications of local social-ecological processes that cumulate to the planetary level. Local processes are far-reaching in space, time and phenomena, and better understanding of the complex relationships and co-evolution between ecosystem and social processes is much needed. In this talk I will present a conceptual framework that aims to depict the complex interaction between social and ecological systems, and show a few examples of its operationalization from different ecosystems (tropical forests, water systems, etc.) that focus on human-resource and human-biodiversity interactions. I will present the work that our group at UZH has been developing, and how we envision that such approach will contribute to broaden our understanding on the interactions and the co-evolution of social ecological systems towards a better prediction of the response space in the context of global change.


I'm a Professor in Earth System Sciences at the 
University of Zurich in Switzerland.
 I hold a doctoral degree in 
Ecology from the University of California Davis, and after the 
conclusion of the PhD I did two postdocs, one at the University of 
California Berkeley and one at Stanford University. Before joining the 
University of Zurich, I was an Assistant Professor at Utrecht University 
in the Netherlands.

My research asks questions around the co-evolution of social-ecological 
systems, a fundamental step to place Earth System Sciences in the 
context of the Anthropocene. My approach is interdisciplinary, and 
observes, describes, measures drivers and their impact, and models the 
interactions and feedbacks between Earth System spheres and the human