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Resilience and Social-Ecological Systems: The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Program in Australia and Canada


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Matysek, K 2009 , 'Resilience and Social-Ecological Systems: The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Program in Australia and Canada', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Biosphere Reserves
(BRs) provide an example of an integrated sustainability framework that allows for connection
between international, national, state / provincial and local levels of conservation and capacitybuilding.
The three major functions of a BR are conservation of biodiversity, sustainable development
and support for logistics. As coupled social-ecological systems, BRs explicitly acknowledge that
human systems and ecological systems are inextricably linked, and have the potential to bridge
ecological and social-political spheres that have been viewed as predominantly disparate entities,
rather than as interconnected or nested systems.
The aim of this thesis is to identify the key features (assets, process and outcome) required to
enhance the fit between governance systems and ecosystems using the UNESCO BR model, and
develop a framework for establishing BRs as resilient working landscapes. By identifying features that
seem critical for linking civil society, institutions and government dynamically across multiple levels,
the research addresses the governance dimension of ecosystem management and the social factors
that enable such management. The scope of the thesis is limited to developed country contexts.
Data are derived from focus groups, site visits, 52 key informant interviews and literature reviews.
The research process utilised an emergent, naturalistic inquiry, characterised by abductive, deductive
and inductive methods. Four Australian and four Canadian qualitative case studies support and
demonstrate the three phases of the BR resilience conceptual framework developed herein.
UNESCO BRs originated in the early 1970s as international examples of biodiversity conservation
and sites of scientific research and monitoring. Since this time, the international program has
broadened to include more complex notions of social-ecological systems, reflecting shifts in
environmental discourse and praxis. The Australian BR Program is characterised by governmentinitiated
BRs and those generated though community-derived stewardship. Over the same period, the
Canadian BR Program has consistently developed through community capacity and the Canadian
Biosphere Reserve Association.
Capital assets and ‘new governance’ processes are two of the three key phases of developing a
successful (resilient) BR. Adaptive capacity is a key component of the final phase; the achievement of
a resilient working landscape. In the framework, evolution and devolution of a BR occurs in response
to social and ecological variables. However, maintenance and renewal of capital assets are crucial to
sustaining the first and most fundamental phase of BR resilience.
Specific guidelines for the application of the BR resilience conceptual framework are provided to
inform individual BRs and their national programs more generally, and provide any party interested in
the BR concept with a means to develop a resilient BR, from its inception. Avenues for future
research are suggested, with a recommended focus upon harnessing greater understanding of
resilience factors in social-ecological systems, and the relationship of these to BRs.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Matysek, K
Keywords: UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, resilience, social-ecological systems, working landscapes, capital assets, new governance, adaptive capacity, Australia, Canada.
Publisher: Royal Society of Tasmania, University of Tasmania Library Special and Rare Materials Collection
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2009 the author

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