Program Overview

Current trends such as global change will require natural resource disciplines to expand their scientific basis and possibly shift their dominant paradigms to adopt a broader view of the systems they manage as complex social-ecological systems. This likely will result in borrowing and adapting theories and concepts from other disciplines, such as complexity science. Students in natural resources will need more training in these paradigms and learn to incorporate concepts such as thresholds, uncertainty, and cross-scale interactions as they affect ecosystem dynamics into management or restoration prescriptions.  This is particularly true for forest management.

The aim of this course is to prepare students to critically assess and analyse the challenges and opportunities related to sustainably managing forests in a diverse range of social, cultural, environmental and economic contexts and in consideration of the inherent complexity of the forest ecosystem.  This year a specific emphasis will be placed on the European context, with visits to a study region in Tuscany, Italy.

The course involves preparatory readings and discussion of key literature on the subject and then one week in the Vallombrosa forest, Tuscany.

Topics covered will include:

  • complex systems theory
  • complex social-ecological networks
  • panarchy and resilience theory applied to social-ecological systems
  • incorporating complexity into natural resource management
  • adaptive capacity in social governance of natural resource systems
  • wicked problems and uncertainty
  • case studies and examples

The field component is a multi-university cooperation and will be co-taught by Dr. Lael Parrott, Professor in Earth, Environmental, and Geographic Sciences and Biology and Director of the Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience, and Ecosystem Services, University of British Columbia, Canada; Dr. Klaus Puettmann, Edmund Hayes Professor in Silviculture Alternatives, Oregon State University, USA; Dr. Christian Messier, Director and Professor, Institut des sciences de la forêt tempérée, Université du Québec, Canada, and Dr. Susanna Nocentini, Professor Forest Management, University of Florence, Italy.  Joining us at the Vallombrosa forest will be graduate students enrolled in similar courses at the three other institutions. The field component will involve active learning, site visits, and group work on exercises aimed at operationalizing key concepts.  

Program Content (Learning Outcomes):

  • Describe how conceptual models of social-ecological systems are applicable to forest systems
  • Describe the key characteristics of a complex system and explain how these apply to a forest ecosystem with a special emphasis on thresholds, non-linearity, and feedback loops
  • Assess and propose how to manage and plan for the impacts of cross-scale interactions, scale-misfits, and scale hierarchies on forest dynamics over scales of space and time.
  • Propose how to integrate the inherent uncertainty of social-ecological systems into forecasting and prediction efforts.
  • Integrate information from the three previous learning outcomes and work with an ecosystem model that is composed of dynamic, ever-changing components and interactions and does not follow linear successional pathways.
  • Understand the concepts of resilience, panarchy, adaptive capacity and vulnerability as they apply to social-ecological systems, and in the specific context of forest systems
  • For a given forest system, propose policy, stewardship, management or other interventions that may contribute to achieving societal, economic and ecological objectives over the long-term

Up to 15 students will be accepted into this program. Preference will be given to students in earth & environmental sciences, geography, ecology, forestry, sustainability or a related discipline, however, students in ALL disciplines are encouraged to apply. Students are expected to bring in their respective backgrounds and expertise to ensure a multi-dimensional discussion and learning environment.

Term Offered
2017 Winter Term 1 

Course Schedule

Field component: September 24 – 29, 2017 at the Vallombrosa Forest, Tuscany, Italy (please consider travel times before and after the field component)

Seminar component: Students will meet with the instructor to discuss theory and preparatory readings during the 3 weeks prior to travel.  Times and location TBD.


Course number and title:  EESC 551D – Forests as complex social-ecological systems
Short Description: Comprehensive, graduate-level survey of recent research related to the study and management of complex, social-ecological systems at the landscape scale, with an emphasis on applications to forest management. 

Eligibility Requirements
Be enrolled in a graduate program at the Masters or Doctoral level at the time the course is offered.

The course is held at the Forest of Vallombrosa in Tuscani, Italy.  Students will be staying in rooms at the Paradisino Student House in Vallombrosa.  Group meals will be provided and are included in the cost of lodging. 

Program Fee
$1370-$1660 CAD 
NOTE: The program fee will be offset by $1,000 for UBC students qualifying for the Go Global Award (i.e., those students with a 70% average over 24 credits during the 2015-2016 academic year).

 INCLUDED in program fee  NOT included in the program fee
  •  Accomodations
  • Flight
  • In-country group transportation
  • UBC tuition (3 credits)
  • Meals
  • Immunizations (if necessary)
  • Wifi
  • Visas (if necessary)
  • Guest Lectures
  • Personal spending money for communications, snacks, souvenirs, etc.
  • Go Global Fee

Please fill out the budgeting tool prior to applying to gain an idea of the overall costs.  


Deadline: Application is now closed 

Application: Please submit the application here, and you will be contacted by Go Global for next steps
Eligible applicants may be invited for an interview prior to being accepted into the program

Withdrawals and Refunds
If you decide to withdraw your application following submission, you need to make this request in writing by email to Skye Larlee at Please be sure to consult the Global Seminar Refund Policy terms.

For questions about the application process and/or funding and scholarship eligibility, please contact Skye Larlee at Go Global 


Last reviewed shim5/19/2017 3:47:49 PM