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2018-06-11 | Peer Reviewed

Vulnerability of socio –ecological systems: A conceptual framework

Berrouet, Lina Maria, Jenny Machado and Clara Inés Villegas Palacio. 2018. “Vulnerability of socio –ecological systems: A conceptual framework.” Ecological Indicators 84: 632-647.
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The analysis of vulnerability of socio-ecological systems to threats of different types such as extreme climate events or change in land use draws attention to the factors and processes that determine whether the ecological, social and integrated socio-ecological systems are likely to experience harm due to exposure to the threat. During the last years there has been an increasing attention to the analysis of the vulnerability of socio-ecological systems when facing the lost or degradation of ecosystem services. However, despite the existence of conceptual frameworks and empirical applications to evaluate vulnerability of socio-ecological systems some open questions and challenges still remain. How to conceptually differentiate key concepts such as sensitivity, exposition, vulnerability and threat? How to consider the differences in socio-economic characteristics of the beneficiaries and in their capacity to adapt to new conditions of the ecological system? How to link ecological vulnerability with the social system analysis to obtain an integrated risk assessment of the socio-ecological system? This paper presents a conceptual framework for vulnerability assessment of socio-ecological systems that addresses the mentioned open questions based on a review of both theoretical and empirical literature related to vulnerability and socio-ecological systems. The paper identifies the attributes and indicators of the dimensions of vulnerability for understanding both the social vulnerability and ecological vulnerability separately and then jointly, in interaction with each other. The framework offers a way to communicate with practitioners and policy makers on identifying and improving the factors that reduce vulnerability. It can thus serve as a tool for targeting the implementation of policies and practices aimed at reducing vulnerability.