Complex Social-Ecological Systems

NSF Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability Fellow

My current work as an NSF Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability Fellow involves a 35-year collaborative research project in rural Zimbabwe run by The Muonde Trust. I and the community research team are developing methods of modeling the resilience of their system and synthesizing their long-term data to answer pressing concerns about sustainable environmental management. Current projects include the work mentioned below: social network analysis of household mobility in Mazvihwa Communal Area and an agent-based model of the farmers’ agro-pastoral system (see its GitHub repository, and its entry on the CoMSES Computational Model Library).  We are also working on papers describing teaching and learning digital mapping techniques (see this video of me presenting our participatory mapping projects at the Geospatial Analysis for International Development Symposium at UC Berkeley), as well as the creation of the agro-pastoral agent-based model (see my presentation at the UC Berkeley Geography’s colloquium about the modeling project.

I am also affiliated with the Science and Justice Research Center at UC Santa Cruz, where I work on how to make citizen science more inclusive in general, as well as better understanding the success of The Muonde Trust’s research process in particular.  I am also interested in the synthesis of qualitative and quantitative data and am working on writing a “Modeler’s Manifesto” with tips on practices for making modeling more open, just, and epistemically sound.

Santa Fe Institute 2015 Complex Systems Summer School

As part of my work on this grant, I attended the Santa Fe Institute’s Summer School on Complex Systems.  We learned many methods and perspectives on the description, dynamics, and prediction of complex systems.  I am working with two different groups of fellow summer school students on two different methods of exploring the resilience of the social-ecological system studied by The Muonde Trust.  First, we are examining the community’s social resilience and comparing the stability of households, genealogical kinship networks, and other structures through network analysis. This project is currently in prep for World Development.  Second, we are modeling the dynamics of agriculture, livestock production, and woodland conservation in the system using Agent-Based Models in NetLogo.  These resources are all interconnected by a set of complicated feedbacks which must be modeled.  Our goal is to understand how human management enhances the resilience of the system in the face of considerable spatial variation and year-to-year variation in growth rates due to differences in soils and rainfall.  This project is currently in prep for Ecology and Society.