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The demand the human population is placing on the environment has triggered accelerated rates of biodiversity change and created trade-offs among the ecosystem services we depend upon. Decisions designed to reverse these trends require the best possible information obtained by monitoring ecological and social dimensions of change. Here, we conceptualize a network framework to monitor change in social–ecological systems. We contextualize our framework within Ostrom’s social–ecological system framework and use it to discuss the challenges of monitoring biodiversity and ecosystem services across spatial and temporal scales. We propose that spatially explicit multilayer and multiscale monitoring can help estimate the range of variability seen in social–ecological systems with varying levels of human modification across the landscape. We illustrate our framework using a conceptual case study on the ecosystem service of maple syrup production. We argue for the use of analytical tools capable of integrating qualitative and quantitative knowledge of social–ecological systems to provide a causal understanding of change across a network. Altogether, our conceptual framework provides a foundation for establishing monitoring systems. Operationalizing our framework will allow for the detection of ecosystem service change and assessment of its drivers across several scales, informing the long-term sustainability of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

1. Introduction

Humans and nature are inextricably connected through ecosystem benefits and ecosystem services (ES(s) hereafter). The demands of a growing human population for provisioning ESs (e.g., food production, energy, timber) have triggered the worldwide erosion of biodiversity (Ceballos et al. 2015IPBES 2019), the increase in species invasions, the loss of ecosystem functions (Cardinale et al. 2011), and trade-offs among the ESs we depend on (Cord et al. 2017aMartín-López et al. 2014). Particularly in the past half century, 75% of basic ESs (i.e., provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural) are estimated to be in a degraded state (Díaz et al. 2019). Our capacity to make decisions that attenuate and reverse these impacts on biodiversity and ESs loss can be improved via the implementation of adaptive monitoring strategies (IPBES 2019MA 2005).

The need to monitor change in biodiversity and ESs has been identified at regional and global scales (GEO BON 2017). Commitments to the international (i.e., Convention on Biological Diversity) and national biodiversity and sustainability goals (e.g., Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals) will likely see renewed investment in monitoring capacity in the coming decade. Despite the surge in investment in the monitoring of biodiversity and ESs across spatial scales, integrated monitoring schemes that evaluate the ecological and social dimensions of change at different spatial scales still remain scarce (Geijzendorffer and Roche 2013Geijzendorffer et al. 2017bKühl et al. 2020). Likewise, while current ecological monitoring captures important dynamics in particular species and ES stocks, they generally fail to monitor the co-dependence, or connectivity, among ecosystems and human uses (e.g., ES flow, drivers of change, beneficiaries, demand; for review see Kluger et al. 2020), which is essential if we are to assess the long-term sustainability of biodiversity and ESs under changing or novel environmental and social conditions (Tallis et al. 2012).

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