ESSM 318

Coupled Human-Ecological Systems
ESSM 318



Most ecosystems throughout the globe are human dominated and possess strong linkages between human actions and ecological outcomes. This course investigates the importance and complexity of human-ecological interactions on natural resource management, provision of ecosystem services, and human well-being. The role of various knowledge sources, including scientific knowledge, and human behavior and environmental ethics on these interactions will be investigated from the perspective of individuals and social institutions. Adaptive management and social learning will be emphasized as necessary to guide change in human-ecological systems, including mitigation, adaptation, and transformation. Resilience thinking will be used to integrate these diverse concepts and issues to develop a framework capable of guiding management under conditions of great uncertainty, incomplete knowledge, and urgent timelines. High profile contemporary issues from within the State and Nation will be used to illustrate the operation and importance of these transformative concepts.


Learning Outcomes

Course completion will contribute to the following learning outcomes:
• Understand the importance of human-ecological systems to sustainable natural resource management and human well-being.
• Appreciate that novel approaches are required to effectively manage human-ecological systems under conditions of increasing resource demand and unprecedented change.
• Identify the role of ethics, norms and behaviors in the creation and resolution of problems involving renewable resource management.
• Recognize the importance of social institutions and governance in shaping both natural resource problems and potential solutions.
• Apply course concepts to contemporary environmental issues to demonstrate societal relevance.
• Develop skill sets and perspectives that are necessary for application of ‘resilience thinking’ to renewable resource management.


Dr. David D. Briske

Department of Ecosystem Science & Management Animal Industries Building (ANIN), Room 328 Phone: 979-845-5581


Meeting Time and Location

Tuesday and Thursday 9:35 – 10:50 am

Reading Assignments

A reading and video list will be assigned by subject matter section on the eCampus course page. Assigned papers and videos represent a central feature of the course by providing content for critical thinking and higher cognitive learning developed through discussion and interaction with peers and the instructor.


RENR 205 – Fundamentals of Ecology and AGEC 105 – Introduction to Agricultural Economics or equivalent course content.

Educational Approach

The course will be based on collaborative learning that will blend reading and video content acquired outside of class with in-class discussion, mini-lectures, and interaction among peers and the instructor to
promote critical thinking and higher cognitive learning. I-clickers will be used each class period to encourage active learning, evaluate student performance, and to provide immediate feedback. Students
must have a functioning i-clicker that is appropriately registered for the class. Discussion is the prototypic teaching method for active learning. Research has established that memory is affected by how deeply we process new knowledge1. Elaboration of knowledge by explaining, questioning, and summarizing contributes to greater cognitive learning and critical thinking skills. Students have been shown to be more attentive and think more deeply in a discussion than in a more passive learning format.

Benefits of learning through discussion:
• Practice critical thinking
• Evaluate logic and evidence
• Engage in collaborative learning
• Receive immediate feedback from peers
1Excerpt from ‘McKeachies’s Teaching Tips. 2011, 13th Ed., Wadsworth’.
Evaluation Procedures
Evaluation will be based on a combination of in-class exams, frequent in-class e-dialogues, and class participation. Exams will consist of multiple choice and scenario analysis questions, taken in class, and
will be scantron graded. Class participation requires that students read assigned material before each class period and respond to questions and participate in class discussion. A reflective essay will enable students
to assess and describe how the class influenced their perspectives on the topics covered
Exams (2 @ 100 pts) 200 points
Final Exam (comprehensive) 100 points
In-class e-dialogues (10 @ 10 pts) 100 points
Participation (10 @ 3 pts) 30 points
Reflective Essay 50 points
Total Points 480 points
Grade Distribution:

Make-Up Examinations and Late Assignments

Make-up examinations will be given provided that students present a documented University-excused absence within 1 week of the scheduled examMake-up e-dialogues will not be given, but the three lowest scores will be dropped at the end of the semester. An excused absence means that illness or some other problem beyond your control prevented you from taking the scheduled exams. Make-up exams must be taken within 4 weeks of the scheduled exam. Instructors are under no obligation to provide an opportunity for students to make up course work missed because of unexcused absences (TAMU Regulations). These policies will be strictly enforced.


Regular class attendance is expected and will be evaluated as a component of class participation. Students who consistently attend class attain the highest performance.

ESSM 318 on eCampus

ESSM 318 on eCampus ( will contain the syllabus, readings and links to videos, assignments, special instructions, and grade information for the course. It will be an important means of communication throughout the semester so check it regularly. An eCampus page will be set up automatically for each student and this page will contain a link to their ESSM 318 page.  The user name and password for your eCampus page are the same as those for your NEO account.

I- clicker Registration

Visit the I-clicker webpage at  to register your I-clicker. Instructions for remote registration can be found at:


Learning Environment

Please contribute to a positive and constructive learning environment throughout the semester by:

  • Attending class on time and staying through the entire session
  • Turning off all electronic devices (except if you take notes on a laptop or ipad)
  • Minimize talking and other distracting activities
  • Respecting all student comments and perspectives

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities.  Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities.  If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact the Department of Student Life, Services for Students with Disabilities in Room B118 in Cain Hall (845-1637).

Academic Integrity Statement

An Aggie does not lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate those who do.”

Upon accepting admission to Texas A&M University, a student immediately assumes a commitment to uphold the Honor Code, to accept responsibility for learning, and to follow the philosophy and rules of the Honor System. Students will be required to state their commitment on examinations, research papers, and other academic work. Ignorance of the rules does not exclude any member of the TAMU community from the requirements or the processes of the Honor System. For additional information please visit: All infractions will result in a grade of zero for the evaluation in question and it will be reported as an honor code violation.

I.  Introduction

  1. Course content and goals

Course Syllabus ESSM 318

  1. Learning outcomes and evaluation procedures
  2. This course is important

II.  Welcome to the Anthropocene

  1. Global change indicators
  2. Challenges and ‘wicked’ problems
  3. Management frameworks
    1. Sustainability
    2. Vulnerability
    3. Resilience

III.  Why Human-ecological Systems?

  1. Ecological systems
    1. Structure
    2. Function
    3. Drivers
    4. Human (social) systems
      1. Structure
      2. Function

3. Drivers

  1. Critical interactions

1. Ecological-human dynamics

2. Human-ecological dynamics

IV. Ecosystem Services Keep Us Alive

  1. Categories

1. Provisioning

2. Supporting

3. Regulating

4. Cultural

  1. Managing service trade offs
  2. Valuation methods
    1. Human well-being

1. Physical

2. Psychological

V.  Human Knowledge and Behavior

  1. Mental models
  2. Knowledge sources

1. Local

2. Professional manager

3. Scientific

  1. Knowledge production

D. Attitudes, norms and behaviors

  1. Environmental Ethics

VI. Role of Science in Society

A. Limits of scientific knowledge

  1. Natural resource management models

1. Steady state management

2. Ecosystem management

3. Resilience-based Management


  1. Normal, post-normal and post-modern approaches
    1. Trans-disciplinary science

VII. Resilience Thinking

  1. Equilibrial and nonequilibrial ecology
  2. Resilience theory
    1. Thresholds and alternative stable states
    2. Feedback mechanisms
    3. State-and-transition models
      1. Adaptive cycles and panarchy

VIII. Collaborative Adaptive Management

  1. Process components
    1. Passive vs active management
    2. Monitoring management outcomes
      1. Challenges to implementation

IX. Promoting Social Learning

  1. Essential elements
  2. Rules of effective dialogue
  3. Linking diverse knowledge sources
    1. Promotion and development

X.  Navigating System Change

  1. Vulnerability
  2. Mitigation
    1. Land sharing and sparing

2. Biofuel options

3. Human consumption and diets

  1. Adaptation

1. Human values

2. Enterprises and livelihoods

3. Social Institutions

  1. Transformation

1. Ecological change

2. Social change

XI. Value of Ecological Economics

  1. Integrating ecology and economics

1. Resource categories

2. Valuing resources

  1. Limits to economic growth

1. Sustainability and production efficiency

2. Ecological and resource constraints

  1. Human innovation and technology

1. Globalization

2. Technological solutions

XII. Environmental Governance

  1. What are institutions and why do they matter?

1. Institutions and human behavior

2. Policy development and impacts

  1. Hybrid governance systems

1. State, market and community

2. Decentralization and federalism

Comments are closed.