Science for place-based socioecological management: Lessons from the Maya forest (Chiapas and Petén)

David Manuel-Navarrete, Scott Slocombe, Bruce Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The role humans should play in conservation is a pervasive issue of debate in environmental thinking. Two long-established poles of this debate can be identified on a preservation-sustainable use continuum. At one extreme are use bans and natural science-based, top-down management for preservation. At the other extreme is community-based, multidisciplinary management for sustainable resource use and livelihoods. In this paper, we discuss and illustrate how these two strategies have competed and conflicted in conservation initiatives in the Maya forest (MF) of the Middle Usumacinta River watershed (Guatemala and Mexico). We further argue that both extremes have produced unconvincing results in terms of the region's sustainability. An alternative consists of sustainability initiatives based on place-based and integrated-knowledge approaches. These approaches imply a flexible combination of disciplines and types of knowledge in the context of nature-human interactions occurring in a place. They can be operationalized within the framework of sustainability science in three steps: 1) characterize the contextual circumstances that are most relevant for sustainability in a place; 2) identify the disciplines and knowledge(s) that need to be combined to appropriately address these contextual circumstances; and 3) decide how these disciplines and knowledge can be effectively combined and integrated. Epistemological flexibility in the design of analytic and implementation frameworks is key. Place-based and integrative-knowledge approaches strive to deal with local context and complexity, including that of human individuals and cultures. The success of any sustainability initiative will ultimately depend on its structural coupling with the context in which it is applied.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Contextualization
  • Integrated conservation
  • Maya forest
  • Place-based
  • Sustainability initiatives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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