CNH-L: People, Place, and Payments in Complex Human-Environment Systems

  • An, Li L. (PI)
  • Stow, Douglas D.A. (CoPI)
  • Glick, Jennifer Elyse (CoPI)
  • Qiu, Fang F. (CoPI)
  • Lewison, Rebecca R.L. (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project seeks to advance the understanding of the impact of payments for ecosystem services (PES), a global conservation approach that incentivizes users of essential natural resources to protect the related ecosystems. In recent decades these programs have increased in popularity, and an increasing number of parallel PES programs have been deployed to mitigate environmental degradation and the over-exploitation of natural resources. PES programs are often implemented concurrently in the same temporal and spatial context, yet little understanding exists about the mechanisms, pathways, and social and ecological effects of such interacting, parallel PES programs. This project will analyze how and why parallel PES programs interact with one another and with the corresponding coupled natural and human system. This work will result in generating insight into the potential, often unintended, social and ecological consequences. PES programs may impact human migration, investment in education, and other connections between local households and the physical environment. Furthermore, the project will address how such programs may affect changes in land cover, land use, and species habitat over time. This project will benefit society by addressing the interactions between development conservation policy and the effectiveness of governmental investments made in PES programs. This project's broader impacts also extend to innovative education and outreach activities that mentor K-12 students and their teachers, creative use of new geospatial technologies for effective monitoring and conservation of endangered wildlife, development of a student-centered pedagogy that enhances understanding of complex human-environment systems, and the development of a related movie and a web-based PES Center to disseminate project results. The research will train graduate students and foster collaboration between U.S. and Chinese scientists.

The project aims to understand the reciprocal relationship between parallel PES programs, shedding light on the related social and ecological consequences of these programs over space and time. The PIs will answer the following questions: (1) Through what pathways or mediating variables do parallel PES programs, through their influence on human and natural subsystems, affect one another? (2) Where and to what extent do parallel PES programs lead to net changes in the environment? (3) How has and will the human-environment system evolve over space and time given these interventions? Within the human subsystem the PIs will focus on the impacts of migration and job opportunities, as well as the educational investments of participating households. Within the natural subsystem, the PIs will document and monitor land cover and land use change, as well as occupancy and habitat of major mammal species using an unmanned aerial vehicle, camera trapping, and satellite imaging techniques. Lastly, the PIs will develop a complex systems framework, which consists of geospatial and statistical analyses, structural equation modeling, and development of an agent-based model (ABM) integrating qualitative and quantitative data and models across various spatial and temporal scales. Although this project will use data from Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve (FNNR) in China, the research will provide insights and approaches for understanding the mechanisms behind parallel PES programs in many coupled natural and human systems, substantially improving the science, technology, and practical effectiveness of PES.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/182/28/23


  • National Science Foundation: $1,450,000.00


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