UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Leveraging human–nature relationships towards sustainable pathways Eyster, Harold N.


Urbanization, habitat change, climate change, biodiversity loss, etc., are eroding human relationships with nature but also generating new ones. Identifying and reorienting these novel human–nature relationships is key to enabling the broad, rapid, and transformative change that today’s environmental challenges require. This dissertation tests how a relational perspective could mobilize diverse human–nature relationships to assist in this crucial venture. Chapter 2 uses bird point counts (n=100) and in situ functional trait observations to explore whether indirect relationships between people and food can be harnessed to support birds in the American Midwest. Exploiting a Bayesian multispecies abundance model, functional traits (n=34), and metacommunity theory, I show that perennial polyculture farms conserve birds. Chapter 3 evaluates the relationships manifested between ecotourists and African wildlife using data on visits to African parks (n=164) and presence of mammalian megafauna (n=9), bird diversity, and geographic variables. Drawing on Bayesian models of tourist visits, I show that tourists prefer to visit parks with high bird and megafauna diversity. In Chapter 4, I investigate direct, conscious human–nature relationships. I conduct a choice experiment of British Columbians (n=646) to test whether cultivating relational values of responsibility about rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) motivates habitat restoration. I use an econometric multinomial logit model to show that emphasizing trout’s genetic distinctiveness and interdependent relationship with people substantially increases motivation to conserve. This method may be applicable to motivate conservation of widespread species generally. In Chapter 5, I combine my trout survey results with other examples from the literature to explain the empirical utility of conducting sustainability science research with a relational ontology and epistemology. Leveraging the huge variety of human–nature relationships for sustainability requires theories of human action. However, each field has its own set of theories, each replete with esoteric vocabulary and implicit assumptions. In Chapter 6, I synthesize human action theories (n=86), and provide a map of the underlying metatheories that scientists can use to understand, organize, advance, and apply human action theories. Finally, I conclude by discussing strengths and limitations, and how a focus on human–nature relationships might help navigate sustainable pathways.

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