MILES Managing Idaho's Landscapes for Ecosystem Services

Investigating social-ecological system boundaries and domains across MILES sites


Idaho State University Participants

Donna Lybecker, Kathleen Lohse, Danelle Larson (post-doctoral researcher), Colden Baxter, Susan Parsons, Mark McBeth, Antonio Castro, Rebecca Hale, Ben Crosby, Sarah Godsey, Stephen Joy (graduate student), Xochitl Sanchez (MURI student), Kimberly Qualman (MURI student), Jennie Sorenson (MURI student)

Partners and Affilation

Michail Fragkias at BSU, Christopher Felt (graduate student) at U of I, Haifeng (Felix) Laio at U of I, Li Huang (graduate student) at U of I.

Research Problem

Realized and perceived boundaries exist in many forms: geographical, biophysical, political, and social. However, the nature of such boundaries and the extent to which they overlay one another to create “SES domains,” is understudied. In many cases, social and ecological boundaries may not map simply on one another, highlighting mismatches of social-ecological domains. This study is conducting a common suite of analyses and cross-site comparisons of the structure, function, and overlap of social and ecological boundaries in Idaho’s mid-sized cities.

Research Outcomes

To accomplish this, we are using multiple, pre-existing datasets and geospatial analyses to locate SES boundaries and associated domains. Then within the sites, we are characterizing the structure of these boundaries, addressing domain function regarding “hotspots” for ecosystem services, and comparing and contrasting boundaries across sites. Finally, we are also examining how these boundaries have shifted historically in space and time—we will use this to model future scenarios to project how SES boundaries might appear and function in the future. To date, we have: examined landscape fragmentation at the level of small- and medium-sized cities in Idaho, identifying the influence of distance from the center of city on the values of the landscape metric and how the landscape metrics of built-up areas change over time and analyzed ecosystem services value (economic), local development, and their relationship in Idaho’s mid-sized cities. Cross-site comparisons are also underway for both of those. Finally we are currently in-process of conducting random-sample surveys of households within urban, sub-urban, ex-urban and rural areas in order to add the social valuation component to our research.

Potential Impacts

Informed and balanced urban growth within and around Idaho’s mid-sized cities has the potential to minimize fragmentation, increase property values, and create communities that highlight the ecosystem services that are important to the residents. This research on mid-sized city growth is allowing scientists and students from Idaho’s large Universities to collaborate and to help inform partners and stakeholders. This work will help in determining best practices for growth and development, and protecting ecosystem services that are highly valued by individuals in Idaho. Finally the cross-site comparisons will also allow for information and strategy sharing among Idaho’s mid-sized cities.


Additional Information

Felt, Christopher, Michail Fragkian, Kathleen Lohse, Danelle Larson, Donna Lybecker (and others?). “Small- to medium-scale urbanization patterns: A comparative study of urban fragmentation in Idaho” In draft form, to be submitted this summer.

Hierarchy & Heterarchy?
Defining and applying conceptual frameworks for effective social-ecological research


Idaho State University Participants

Danelle Larson, Donna Lybecker, Colden Baxter, Mark McBeth, Kathleen Lohse

Partners and Affilation

Participants in a statewide Innovation Working Group on this topic involved scientists beyond those listed above, including Jim Stoutenborough (ISU), Jan Boll, Barb Cosens, Felix Liao, Steve Radil (UI), Shawn Benner, Michail Fragkias, Julie Health, and Eric Lindquist (BSU)

Research Problem

Ecologists and social scientists often understand system complexity and system organization differently, which can create challenges in defining and applying conceptual frameworks needed to conduct effective social-ecological systems science. Such conceptual frameworks are needed to sustain the efforts begun by the MILES program in Idaho, and for social ecological systems science in general.

Research Outcomes

To address this need, we first developed a conceptual model focused on the Portneuf River as a social ecological system, which was used in early stages of project development and allowed social and ecological scientists to begin learning how to communicate with one another. Next, a statewide Innovation Working Group stimulated dialogue regarding shared conceptual models for linking social and ecological science across Idaho. In turn, this provided the conceptual basis for an empirical study being conducted across all three sites in Idaho, entitled “Towards ONEIdaho: An investigation of social-ecological system boundaries and domains across MILES sites.” At present, a smaller group at ISU has drafted a manuscript focused on “Heterarchy and Hierarchy,” system organizational approaches principally employed by social and ecological scientists, respectively, but that may need to be bridged to improve trans-disciplinary science.

Potential Impacts

In the short-term, these efforts have been a key to improving communication and awareness in the process of developing transdisciplinary, social ecological systems science in Idaho. Resulting collaborations are essential to the long-term sustainability of SES science in our region. In general, we have found that principles of both hierarchy and heterarchy theory are needed. For example, ecological understanding important to public policy may be expressed within nested hierarchical frameworks, whereas social understanding of the creation, adoption, and implementation of public policy is likely to be investigated and expressed in a heterarchical fashion. Thus, ecological and social scientists benefit from understanding, and attempting to bridge, these frameworks.

Pocatello Population Growth Scenario


Idaho State University Participants

Di Wu, Donna Delparte, Shannon Kobs-Nawotniak

Partners and Affilation

Hannah Sanger - City of Pocatello

Research Problem

Use high resolution GIS data and models incorporating with city guidelines and development plans to generate future scenarios of city of Pocatello. These scenarios could bring insights on future land cover and land use changes, zoning changes, and the related ecosystem services changes, which in turn could further alter the regional housing supply, employment and population growth.

Research Outcomes

To accomplish this, we have partnered with the City of Pocatello (Idaho). We had organized meetings for discussing data collection, city guidelines and development plans. We've completed majority of the data collection, created new data for model input, and did a test run of the model. We expect to discuss with city and county planners for detailed city development plans, and create more model specified data, and do more test run of the models, and more interesting is to examine the model sensitivity analysis of certain city regulation.

Potential Impacts

Model is an efficient way for getting quick detailed future scenario. The computing and analysis capacity of model could provide real time scenario statistics results, i.e. land use, building, employment rate and population. Through making changes of city regulation, which is also an important part of modeling process, the statistics result could change accordingly. These model results could also indicate the efficiency of current city regulations and development plan. Moreover, current GIS visualization technology could convert 2D map into 3D map. Model scenarios could be visualized as 3D map which supports user exploration. Therefore, model results can be accessed by researchers, partners and stakeholders for reviewing and suggesting the ecosystem services changes in these scenarios. The sensitivity analysis of certain city regulation also provides further information about how we could approach to a more sustainable development plan.

Predicting impacts of future policy-based land use scenarios on
Idaho’s Ecosystem Services and implications for human wellbeing


Idaho State University Participants

Antonio J. Castro, Cristina Quintas-Soriano (Postdoc), Sara Bernardini (Graduate Student), Dainee Gibson (Graduate Student), Katrina Running (ISU)

Partners and Affilation

Professor Jodi Brandt (BSU), Jenna Narducci (BSU, Graduate Student)

Research Problem

Population in Idaho is predicted to grow rapidly in the next two decades. However, the different land use policies that will influence where and how Idaho's cities will grow is not well understood. The urban growth will impact the ecosystem services that the landscape can provide, including water quality and quantity, agriculture production, air quality, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities. However, the extent to which urbanization will impact ecosystem services in these cities is unknown, nor is known the trade-offs among different ecosystem services and their implications for human wellbeing. The overarching objective of our project is to help guide future land use policy in Idaho’s cities by quantifying ecosystem services impacts and trade-offs resulting from different policy scenarios.

Research Outcomes

We have three specific objectives. First (Land Use Scenarios), we will determine what drives patterns of past urban growth, project urban land use in the future, and identify plausible scenarios of land use change based on existing and potential land use policy at each site. Second (Ecosystem Services Valuation), we will quantify the biophysical capacity of landscapes to provide services (supply) as well as explore their sociocultural and economic value (demand). Third (Synthesis), we will measure how different future land use scenarios impact ecosystem services supply and demand.

Potential Impacts

We will tailor our results so that they can be used by land managers to help identify areas in Idaho where ecosystem services are declining or priority areas for conservation. Additionally, our results will be useful in detecting potential conflicts among stakeholders’ groups associated with new management and planning practices. Our project will increase partnership and mentoring relationships among MILES researchers. A key idea and expectation of this project is all personnel involved will collaborate together with all goals to create an interdisciplinary mentoring and team science partnership between the three institutions. For example, an ISU MS student specialized in ES mapping across MILES sites will also work with social surveys in Boise and Moscow.


Additional Information

This project is essential for the development of an ongoing international collaboration within The Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS), jointly sponsored by ICSU and UNESCO.

The MILES program, including the three sites, has been integrated as key component of a PECS-endorsed project, the WaterSES project (Water scarcity across watershed Social-Ecological Systems), an international and interdisciplinary group working to understand and compare the social-ecological dynamics causing, and caused by, water scarcity across watersheds in Spain, Oklahoma and Idaho, with the goal of finding sustainable solutions to balance the water needs of nature and society.

Visit the "The Social-Ecological Research Lab" for more information