Plausible futures of a social-ecological system: Yahara watershed, Wisconsin, USA

Stephen R. Carpenter, Eric G. Booth, Sean Gillon, Christopher J. Kucharik, Steven Loheide, Amber S. Mase, Melissa Motew, Jiangxiao Qiu, Adena R. Rissman, Jenny Seifert, Evren Soylu, Monica Turner, Chloe B. Wardropper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Agricultural watersheds are affected by changes in climate, land use, agricultural practices, and human demand for energy, food, and water resources. In this context, we analyzed the agricultural, urbanizing Yahara watershed (size: 1345 km², population: 372,000) to assess its responses to multiple changing drivers. We measured recent trends in land use/cover and water quality of the watershed, spatial patterns of 10 ecosystem services, and spatial patterns and nestedness of governance. We developed scenarios for the future of the Yahara watershed by integrating trends and events from the global scenarios literature, perspectives of stakeholders, and models of biophysical drivers and ecosystem services. Four qualitative scenarios were created to explore plausible trajectories to the year 2070 in the watershed’s social-ecological system under different regimes: no action on environmental trends, accelerated technological development, strong intervention by government, and shifting values toward sustainability. Quantitative time-series for 2010–2070 were developed for weather and land use/cover during each scenario as inputs to model changes in ecosystem services. Ultimately, our goal is to understand how changes in the social-ecological system of the Yahara watershed, including management of land and water resources, can build or impair resilience to shifting drivers, including climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Alternative futures
  • Climate
  • Ecosystem services
  • Eutrophication
  • Governance
  • Lakes
  • Land-use change
  • Phosphorus
  • Scenarios

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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