Examining ecosystem deterioration using a total socioenvironmental system approach

Document Type


Publication Date



Geography and Geology

Publication Title

Science of the Total Environment


We are faced with many challenges such as climate change, environmental pollution, ecosystem deterioration, water scarcity, and deepened socioeconomic inequality. However, there is no consistent framework to explain the interactions between environmental changes and human activities. Therefore, we propose a total socioenvironmental analytical framework (TSEAF) based on the society–nature coevolution theory. TSEAF unifies all components concerning the society–nature coevolution into one system, assimilates biophysical and socioeconomic datasets into a unified database, and unifies analytical methods with assimilated datasets for an integrated analysis. We illustrate TSEAF through a case study on grassland productivity in Inner Mongolia, China. The results of the case study suggested that socioeconomic development covariated with eco-environmental changes. The directions and strengths of covariation decided the interaction dynamics between humans and natural systems. Climatic change and socioeconomic transformation equally affected the productivity of the grassland. Precipitation and temperature remarkably increased (decreased) the grassland productivity when their long-term trends of change were similar (dissimilar). The socioeconomic goals often contradicted each other and displayed mixed impact on the grassland production, thereby showing obvious spatial disparities. The results indicated an urgent need to balance the conflicting socioeconomic targets for sustainable development. In brief, the case study illustrated how to assimilate a unified socioenvironmental database and integrate appropriate analytical methods with the available datasets. It successfully demonstrated the applicability of TSEAF. The proposed framework can be used to examine various other coupled socioenvironmental systems or other geographic areas.

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