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Current Projects

Regional resilience of communities in the Ötscher Region of Austria 

Climate change, population decline, economic downturns, and the threat of ecological collapse have posed grand challenges to rural contexts across the globe. The Ötscher Region, nested in the Austrian Alps, is particularly susceptible to degradation given rapidly warming temperatures and impending changes to a local economy that largely depends on winter tourism in high elevation ecosystems. This project therefore addresses challenges of sustainability transformations with a particular focus on characterizing the region's social and ecological conditions using a novel resilience framework to understand how communities can be better positioned to adapt to change. We are addressing the following objectives: 1) Understand the social-ecological system, including interactions and outcomes among ecological, economic and social variables; 2) Evaluate the spatiotemporal changing trends of historical resilience data and identify points of vulnerability in the system; 3) determine the triggers of change in regional resilience by analyzing supply-demand mismatches in energy flow; 4) Simulate land-use patterns of the region and use climate change datasets to forecast potential internal and external threats; and 5) Develop dynamic adaptive solutions to encourage sustainable development at a regional scale.

Collaborators: Ulrike Pröbstl-Haider


Human dimensions of fisheries management 

Our research group has an ongoing program of environmental social science research to support fisheries management agencies. We have studied a range of factors that shape human behavior and influence issues such as invasive species prevention and fishing participation. Our research has helped to understand and more effectively engage a range of interest groups such as anglers, boaters, and organism in trade hobbyists. We have investigated topics such as: 1) the role of environmental worldviews and social norms in shaping angler behavior; 2) tradeoffs among preferences for future fishing scenarios; 3) barriers to participation among boaters and anglers; 4) evaluations of outreach campaigns; and 5) systematic reviews of environmental communication patterns in fisheries research. This work has been supported by agencies such as the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Currently, we are examining the recruitment, retention and reactivation of recreational anglers across the state of IL and are engaging with conservation police officers to enhance enforcement of invasive species prevention. It is our hope that the outcomes of this research will benefit freshwater ecosystems and human communities working to sustain natural resources in the Great Lakes Basin. 

Visit our project website here.

Collaborators: Greg Hitzroth, Richard Stedman, Cory Suski, Marc Gaden, Len Hunt, Robert Arlinghaus, Adam Landon, Sophia Kochalski, Gerard Kyle


Human-bird interactions 

Sustaining a diversity of plant and animal species requires local stewardship shaped by the multiple values of nature that are expressed through narratives of engagement with wildlife. However, environmental management decisions often fail to integrate these diverse forms of knowledge to support urban conservation initiatives. Our objective is to remedy this lack of integration between the social and natural science through an investigation of human-bird interactions in the Midwestern US. Taking a two-pronged approach, we first engage stakeholders in discussions about the values derived from interacting with birds alongside the perceived threats facing bird communities. We then conduct in situ ecological monitoring to generate diversity indices of avifauna. Finally, we integrate these social-ecological data to better understand the biotic milieu that influences stakeholder narratives, and in turn, generates stewardship outcomes. This new line of research will provide insight into drivers of stewardship that transform urban ecosystems into more sustainable states.

Visit our project website here.

Collaborators: Mark Hauber, Henry Pollock, Riley AndradeSusannah Lerman


Previous Projects

Values and environmental behavior in protected areas

National parks and protected areas generate considerable economic benefits and play important roles in sustaining ecosystems on a global scale. These places also attract and maintain public support due to their socio-cultural values that serve as motivators for owning, managing, and conserving natural resources. However, the multiple values of nature are underrepresented in conservation research and practice, as well as less easily quantified and measured across spatial scales. Our research group has an ongoing program of research in parks and protected areas around the globe. One collection of projects has taken place in Alaskan protected areas for the past 10 years. In these studies, we have investigated topics such as: 1) the spatial dynamics of social values of ecosystem services; 2) Personal and cultural values as drivers of pro-environmental behavior; 3) relationships between values and social ecological systems; 4) the role of social learning in shaping values over time; and 5) engagement with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Values Assessment. For this work, we have received support from the National Park Service, National Science Foundation, and the Belmont Forum as part of international consortium of protected area researchers in countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands, and Spain. This broader consortium was part of the ENVISION project for inclusive conservation

Learn more about our project here.

Collaborators: Chris Raymond, Rose Keller, Gerard KyleMatt BrownleeStephen SuttonAlisa CoffinKen BagstadBenson Sherrouse


Agro-Ecosystem Services in the Kaskaskia Watershed 

The sustainability of agro-ecosystems in the face of climate change depends on their ability to deliver multiple ecosystem services that include socio-cultural (e.g., recreation) and ecological (e.g., water supply, biodiversity) dimensions. However, management actions and policies that enhance some services from agricultural landscapes may have contrasting effects on others. The main objective of this study were to determine how existing and projected environmental and socio-cultural stressors influence multiple agro-ecosystem services in the Kaskaskia River Watershed. Taking a multi-pronged approach, we engaged community members in interviews, focus groups, and participatory mapping exercises to identify existing and projected stressors that influence the provision of agro-ecosystem services. Next, quantified the impacts of these stressors using metrics simulated by physically-based hydrologic and environmental models. We then measured resident’s preference for change in the agro-ecosystem context using previously identifies stressors in a choice modeling experiment. With support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, this study not only enabled decision-makers to adopt more sustainable practices but also built the capacity of rural communities to cope with changes to the ecosystem services on which they rely.

Learn more about our project here.

Collaborators: Maria ChuWilliam StewartCory Suski, Jeff Stein


Urban Greening and Chicago’s Large Lot Program


This project assessed the benefits of the City of Chicago “Large Lot Program,” which was a residential land use approach developed as part of the City’s Green Healthy Neighborhoods public planning process. The program allowed homeowners in qualifying neighborhoods to purchase vacant lots on their block for $1 for green space and developed uses. We evaluated the program in communities where the City owned large amounts of vacant land with the goals to: 1) Give local residents greater control over vacant land in their neighborhood; 2) Increase safety, build community, and raise home values by creating more neighborhood-level investment; 3) Dispose of some of the City-owned land in these neighborhoods efficiently, which returns the land to the tax rolls; and 4) Create wealth in the community by allowing owners to sell land after 5 years. With support from the USDA Forest Service, we conducted this research to better understand the social and environmental aspects of urban natural resource stewardship, how private lands can contribute public benefits, how urban sustainability initiatives can jointly address social, environmental and economic concerns, and how green space programs can include a broader range of individuals.


Learn more about our project here.


Collaborators: William Stewart, Paul Gobster, Alessandro Rigolon, Douglas Williams, John Strauser


Community resilience in protected grasslands

This study was directed at understanding changes in social and economic conditions of rural communities, and adapting a framework that builds community resilience, in context of grassland protection. Our objectives were to: (1) conduct a nation-wide assessment of the economic impacts of bison re-introduction in contexts of protected grasslands; (2) engage with community stakeholders at two study sites in rural Illinois and Iowa to assess a regional sense of place and capacity for change using in-depth techniques; (3) determine the tradeoffs residents of the two study sites are willing to make among competing future growth scenarios using stated preference modeling; and (4) foster mutual learning and explore ways that stakeholders of the two study sites can adapt to change in response to the results generated in the proposed study.  The orientation of this study enhanced the capacity of rural communities to frame regional development of natural amenities, like grassland protection, as opportunities to strengthen their social and economic well-being. 

Learn more about our project here.

Collaborators: William Stewart, Amy Ando

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Carena J. van Ripercvanripe@illinois.edu
Department of Natural Resources and Environnmental Sciences
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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