This post about our new Perspective article ‘Red and green loops help uncover missing feedbacks in a coral reef social–ecological system’ starts with a summary of the article from Andrea Belgrano, the Associate Editor who handled the peer review process.  We then have a short interview with author Jan‐Claas Dajka about the inspiration behind the article and how it will inform future research. You can also read the authors’ plain language summary here.

Negril Reef, Jamaica.

AB: Understanding the relationships between ecosystems and the ocean’s human dimensions is part of a complex web of interactions that can be described by looking at social-ecological systems (SES) where social processes are coupled to ecosystem dynamics. Dajka et al. 2020 provides an exciting example of transformative changes in relation to Jamaica’s dependence on coral reefs, using historical data information covering a time span from around the year 600 to present. By applying the “red loop-green loop” (RL-GL) concept to classify SES dynamics in Jamaican’s coral reefs, they managed to untangle the missing feedbacks dynamics, links, and processes that are necessary to understand for avoiding red traps scenarios and thus providing useful information to inform policy toward local system sustainability and equity as supported by “green loops” scenarios. The RL-GL concept provides a novel approach for understanding the trade-offs and synergies in SES.

What was the inspiration for this article?

JCD: The inspiration was mainly the article ‘Social drivers forewarn of marine regime shifts’ which was led by Christina Hicks and published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment in 2016. In the article, the authors explore social drivers to ecological regime shifts in four iconic marine examples: Pacific kelp forests, Northwest Atlantic continental shelf, the Chesapeake Bay estuary, and lastly Jamaican coral reefs that our article also explores.

Originally, we wanted to highlight the missing social-ecological feedbacks in all four regime shift examples that Hicks and colleagues explored, but soon realized that the Jamaican example alone would yield in so much detailed information that we decided to make it our sole focus.

How does your article inform future research?

JCD: We advocate for the practicality of the red-loop green-loop model in uncovering missing feedbacks and in gaining an understanding of past, present, and future social-ecological system sustainability. We believe it would be beneficial for future research to test our approach on other social-ecological systems.

Why did you choose People and Nature for your research?

JCD: We like the British Ecological Society Journals and think that People and Nature is a great addition to their journal line as it effectively fills the gap for social-ecological studies. In addition, some of our authors have had very positive experiences with the People and Nature review process in the past and we can definitely echo this now.