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Biocultural approaches to well-being and sustainability indicators across scales


Monitoring and evaluation are central to ensuring that innovative, multi-scale, and interdisciplinary approaches to sustainability are effective. The development of relevant indicators for local sustainable management outcomes, and the ability to link these to broader national and international policy targets, are key challenges for resource managers, policymakers, and scientists. Sets of indicators that capture both ecological and social-cultural factors, and the feedbacks between them, can underpin cross-scale linkages that help bridge local and global scale initiatives to increase resilience of both humans and ecosystems. Here we argue that biocultural approaches, in combination with methods for synthesizing across evidence from multiple sources, are critical to developing metrics that facilitate linkages across scales and dimensions. Biocultural approaches explicitly start with and build on local cultural perspectives — encompassing values, knowledges, and needs — and recognize feedbacks between ecosystems and human well-being. Adoption of these approaches can encourage exchange between local and global actors, and facilitate identification of crucial problems and solutions that are missing from many regional and international framings of sustainability. Resource managers, scientists, and policymakers need to be thoughtful about not only what kinds of indicators are measured, but also how indicators are designed, implemented, measured, and ultimately combined to evaluate resource use and well-being. We conclude by providing suggestions for translating between local and global indicator efforts.

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Fig. 1: Ex situ and in situ knowledge production and synthesis.


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We thank F. Arengo, T. Milton, K. Careaga, M. Gueze, L. Sebastien and M. Roué for contributions. The material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers EF-1427091 and 1444184. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Support for this project also comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Lynette and Richard Jaffe, and the Jaffe Family Foundation.

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E.J.S., C.F., J.N., S.D.J., A.T., and J.M. conceptually framed the manuscript. E.J.S. and C.F. led the development of the manuscript and integration of content. A.S., E.B., G.C., A.T., and N.G. synthesized literature. All remaining authors contributed equally to generating ideas and drafting and revising the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Eleanor J. Sterling.

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Sterling, E.J., Filardi, C., Toomey, A. et al. Biocultural approaches to well-being and sustainability indicators across scales. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 1798–1806 (2017).

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