Social-ecological systems as complex adaptive systems: Modeling and policy implications

Simon Asher Levin, Tasos Xepapadeas, Anne Sophie Crépin, Jon Norberg, Aart De Zeeuw, Carl Folke, Terry Hughes, Kenneth Arrow, Scott Barrett, Gretchen Daily, Paul Ehrlich, Nils Kautsky, Karl Göran Mäler, Steve Polasky, Max Troell, Jeffrey R. Vincent, Brian Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

518 Scopus citations


Systems linking people and nature, known as social-ecological systems, are increasingly understood as complex adaptive systems. Essential features of these complex adaptive systems - such as nonlinear feedbacks, strategic interactions, individual and spatial heterogeneity, and varying time scales - pose substantial challenges for modeling. However, ignoring these characteristics can distort our picture of how these systems work, causing policies to be less effective or even counterproductive. In this paper we present recent developments in modeling social-ecological systems, illustrate some of these challenges with examples related to coral reefs and grasslands, and identify the implications for economic and policy analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-132
Number of pages22
JournalEnvironment and Development Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Development
  • General Environmental Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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