Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Studies (MES)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

D. Scott Slocombe

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


There are an entire class of entities for which conventional scientific understanding is necessary but not sufficient to comprehend. These entities are too complex for analysis and yet too organized for statistics. They exist in a dynamic balance between the ordered and the disordered. They are ecosystems and human institutions. They are complex systems. There is an emerging body of theory that is providing insight into the structures and dynamics that underlie such entities. Under the rubric of complex systems theory, catastrophe theory, chaos theory, hierarchy theory and the interrelated theories of self-organization have profound implications for the way understand the world around us. The field of environmental planning and management exists along the boundary between two complex systems: the ecological and the human socio-economic. Until recently efforts to conserve, restore or even understand such complex sociobiophysical systems have been limited on a theoretical or even epistemological level. Complex systems theory is providing powerful heuristics for the management of human activities within such systems. Current environmental management literature points to three themes or requirements for a systems-based or ecosystem-based approach to planning and management within complex sociobiophysical systems: systems-based science, ethical governance and adaptive management. These themes provide a framework for the integration of some of the most recent complexity theory-based planning and management heuristics in order to produce a new conceptual ideal for ecosystem-based management. This conceptual ideal is compared to an existing case example of adaptive, ecosystem-based management so that insights can be drawn. The Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP), one of North-America's most studied and well- recognized examples of ecosystem-based management is examined and compared to the conceptual ideal developed. The program's officially mandated and operational scientific, governance and management perspectives are described. Strengths and limitations of the CBP are drawn from the comparison with the ideal ecosystem-based management perspective and conclusions and general recommendations for the further development of the approach are presented.

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