Analysis of socio-ecological systems


Jeroen Groot (FSE Wageningen UR)
Erika Speelman (FSE Wageningen UR)


Sustainable use of natural resources in agricultural systems depends on the actions of many farmers in a landscape or region.     

The actions of a farmer can influence the performance of the fields of his neighbours and/or other stakeholders in its vicinity, for instance by transport of soil lost by erosion between fields. In addition, their actions influence the environmental services a system sustains e.g. water quantity & quality, carbon sequestration, species diversity. Often, organization between farmers and mutual exchange of experiences and learning can contribute to solving problems that are relevant at larger spatial and social scales. Thus, improved functioning of the bio-physical environment can be supported by appropriate social and institutional arrangements. Examples of existing case studies are the sustainable management of grasslands, croplands and forests by inhabitants of a small community in a biosphere reserves in Chiapas (Mexico), and the impacts of farmers’ management on meadow bird presence in The Netherlands.


Analysis of patterns in networks representing social interactions and institutional arrangements that are potentially beneficial for sustainable agro-ecosystem functioning.


  • Mapping the social structure in a case study area by interviews and (grey) literature study
  • Collecting data on the main biophysical processes and related problems
  • Describing the interactions between social and bio-physical parts of the agroecosystem
  • Identification of promising patterns of relations in social networks requiring strengthening

Experiences gained

  • Preparation of a detailed proposal
  • Interviewing farmers and other relevant stakeholders
  • Working in a case study region in either France (Brittany or La Reunion), Mexico, or the Netherlands
  • Statistical techniques to analyze networks
  • Quantitative insight in the social relations and institutional arrangements
  • Writing an MSc thesis (and preferably a manuscript for a journal) in English