Framing environmental issues in a sustainability context requires that we highlight the interdependencies between ecological, social and economic factors. Accordingly, the socio-ecological system (SES), which emphasizes the interplay between environmental and social dynamics, seems to be the appropriate framework for analysis. We applied this view to explore issues concerning the conservation of the remnant forests of the peri‑urban area of Bogota (Colombia). Specifically, we characterized this territory as a SES through a parsimonious set of fundamental, across-domain variables. Using elicitation-based information we reconstructed interactions between these variables so that their interactive network could be visualized as alternative signed digraphs. We analyzed these models by Loop Analysis to show that exploiting the structure of the interactions may help disentangling causative mechanisms for the response of remnant forests and other components of this SES to natural events (loss of soil fertility), policies (subsidizing industrial production) and social events (internal migration, social activism) that we assumed as potential drivers of change. Our results highlight that integrating ecological and social variables in a unique interactive network can reveal important causal linkages that make remnant forests unexpectedly vulnerable to certain drivers but also that unexpected beneficial effects may occur, clarifying why same drivers of change can be responsible for both deforestation and forest regrowth. Overall, the analysis reveals that trade-offs between desirable ecological and social outcomes are the rule and that potential win-win outcomes across the triple-bottom line of the sustainable development paradigm are difficult to achieve.
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