Shocks in coupled socio-ecological systems: what are they and how can we model them?

Tatiana Filatova, Gary Polhill

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


Coupled socio-ecological systems (SES) are complex systems characterized by self-organization, non-linearities, interactions among heterogeneous elements within each subsystem, and feedbacks across scales and among subsystems. When such a system experiences a shock or a crisis, the consequences are difficult to predict. In this paper we first define what a shock or a crisis means for SES. Depending on where the system boundary is drawn, shocks can be seen as exogenous or endogenous. For example, human intervention in environmental systems could be seen as exogenous, but endogenous in a socio-environmental system. This difference in the origin and nature of shocks has certain consequences for coupled SES and for policies to ameliorate negative consequences of shocks. Having defined shocks, the paper then focuses on modelling challenges when studying shocks in coupled SES. If we are to explore, study and predict the responses of coupled SES to shocks, the models used need to be able to accommodate (exogenous) or produce (endogenous) a shock event. Various modelling choices need to be made. Specifically, the ‘sudden’ aspect of a shock suggests the time period over which an event claimed to be a shock occurred might be ‘quick’. What does that mean for a discrete event model? Turning to magnitude, what degree of change (in a variable or set of variables) is required for the event to be considered a shock? The ‘surprising’ nature of a shock means that none of the agents in the model should expect the shock to happen, but may need rules enabling them to generate behaviour in exceptional circumstances. This requires a certain design of the agents’ decision-making algorithms, their perception of a shock, memory of past events and formation of expectations, and the information available to them during the time the shock occurred.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationiEMSs 2012 Proceedings
EditorsR. Seppelt, A.A. Voinov, S. Lange, D. Bankamp
PublisherInternational Environmental Modelling and Software Society (iEMSs)
ISBN (Print)9788890357428
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2012
Event6th International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software 2012: Managing Resources of a Limited Planet: Pathways and Visions under Uncertainty - Leipzig, Germany
Duration: 1 Jul 20125 Jul 2012
Conference number: 6


Conference6th International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software 2012


  • Complex system
  • Modelling
  • Structural changes
  • Non-marginal-change
  • Regime shifts


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