We aim to describe the interaction between social and natural systems, which we see as co-evolutionary, in scientifically sound theoretical and methodological terms.

The two concepts of social metabolism and the colonization of natural systems constitute the core of our socio-ecological theory. These concepts draw from quite differing scientific traditions - biology, sociology, economics, technical sciences, history, geography and cultural anthropology - and offer a coherent perspective on the society-nature relationship.

This perspective guides us conceptually and practically in developing information systems for the environmental consequences of human activity ("pressures upon the environment"). It also orients us in our research on ecological and socio-economic aspects of sustainable development at the local, national and global levels.

Our methodological spectrum includes material and energy flow analysis (MFA and EFA), geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing methods, systemic actor-oriented and organizational analyses, and the use of historical sources. We make increasing use of modelling techniques for data simulation, a synthetic presentation of results and as a basis for scenarios. Our culture of stable interdisciplinary cooperation and intensive teamwork make this spectrum possible.

Thematic Areas

  • Social Metabolism
  • Land Use and Colonizations of Ecosystems
  • Long-term socio-ecological research and environmental history
  • Social-Ecological Transformations
  • Integrated Socio-Ecological Modelling

Latest SCI publications

Latest Projects

Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2023-06-01 - 2024-05-31

Levels and structure of energy and resource demands are increasingly recognized as a key critical determinant of feasibility, timing, and costs of climate mitigation actions and their SDG synergies and tradeoffs. The higher the demand, the earlier, the more stringent, and the more costly climate mitigation will have to be. Conversely, lower demands increase the temporal flexibility of climate mitigation and reduce the stringency and costs of mitigation actions, thus also reducing the risks of SDG tradeoffs. Energy and resource demands themselves are intermediary variables, and it is the services and amenities that the use of energy and other resources provides. The efficiency of resource use and the efficiency of alternative service provision models thus moves into center stage of climate mitigation from a demand, or end-use perspective. Because of the high heterogeneity of consumers and the multitude of demand types (food, shelter, mobility, communication, etc.) the theoretical understanding and modeling of “demand” (outside aggregated simplistic formulation) remains limited and fragmented, as are resulting capabilities to propose and to assess demand-side policy interventions from the twin angle of climate mitigation as well as of promoting the SDGs. Overall project objectives 1. to improve the state-of-art of demand modeling in environmental and climate policy analysis, via methods and model intercomparisons and assisting the transfer of conceptual and methodological improvements across disciplines, sectors, and environmental domains. 2. to better inform policy via structured model experiments and simulations that assess potential impacts, barriers, as well as synergies and tradeoffs to other SDG objectives of demand-side policy interventions, particularly in novel fields and service provision models such as digitalization, sharing economy, or the integration of SDG and climate objectives in synergistic policy designs. 3. EDITS focuses on both the human and the technical resources by launching an expert network and a demand-side model comparison exercise.
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2023-05-01 - 2025-04-30

The project MultiBios focuses on the management of multiple hydro-climatic risks in Biosphere Reserves, particularly in view of intensifying climate change and future socioeconomic development. Of all hazards, floods are creating the most economic damages and many areas have been severely hit by extreme flood events in recent years. On the other hand, water scarcity and droughts have become more intense and have therefore received greater attention in the past years. Hence, the project will place a thematic focus on such hydro-metrological mountain hazards (river floods and torrents as well as water scarcity and droughts). In the context of these intensifying extreme hydro-metrological risks, scientific and policy attention is focusing on the question how the resilience of mountain agricultural and forestry sectors can be strengthened. MultiBios aims to develop a better understanding of a holistic governance and management of multiple hydro-climatic risks to improve the social-ecological resilience of Biosphere Reserves in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Acknowledging risk governance and management as a key driver transforming the patterns of risks, MultiBios sets out to provide a scientific basis for the development of comprehensive climate risk management strategies for Biosphere Reserves facing hydro-metrological risks. MultiBios will conduct an in-depth analysis of the multidimensional concept of mountain resilience, integrating the views of relevant stakeholders from science, policy and practice. Its innovative inter- and transdisciplinary approach integrates (i) different dimensions of resilience, and pays attention to (ii) the particular institutional setting(s), as well as (iii) particular need(s) to adapt. There is a particular lack of studies examining the implementation of existing adaptation frameworks specifically in Biosphere Reserves. To ensure the transferability of research findings to other mountain regions MultiBios will (i) establish linkages to international research programmes, (ii) cooperate with internationally renowned researchers, and (iii) conduct a concluding international workshop with policy makers, stakeholders and researchers from Alpine countries.
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2023-06-01 - 2027-05-31

Aligned with the European leading efforts in climate science and multiple initiatives on climate action and sustainability, the project Towards Sustainable Land-use Strategies in the Context of Climate Change and Biodiversity Challenges in Europe (EUROPE-LAND) focuses on the integration of natural and social sciences to identify, develop, test and implement integrated tools to improve the understanding of the factors behind land-use decisions as well as the stakeholders’ awareness and engagement in terms of climate change and biodiversity challenges. EUROPE-LAND expects to go beyond the state-of-the-art and fill in specific gaps associated with integrated indicators for monitoring land use and land cover change, the effects of awareness and behavioural typologies on pathways to more sustainable land use across Europe, and interactive tools to explore land use under different scenarios and with participatory approaches. The project also intends to challenge the dominant narrative through its choice of case studies – particularly comparing Eastern and Western European situations, while also devoting special attention to the role of stakeholders in land-use decisions. EUROPE-LAND integrates 12 EU member states and consists of 7 work packages with tasks associated with assessing land-use behaviour across Europe, investigating the awareness of key land-use related stakeholders about climate change and biodiversity challenges and their willingness to contribute to addressing them, mapping land use and land cover patterns, and constructing integrated assessment modelling approaches. The project will also produce an interactive toolbox for users to experiment with different land-uses, understand hidden connections between them and develop a holistic and systemic way of thinking. Combined with efforts on strategic stakeholder engagement and capacity-building initiatives, the project resources are expected to support sustainable land use and decision making at all levels

Supervised Theses and Dissertations