Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Plant and Soil Science
Protection of water resources in a changing climate depends on bottom-up stewardship and adaptive management. From the ground up, a vital component is maintaining soil ecosystem services that regulate water, recycle nutrients, sequester carbon, provide food, and other benefits. Interacting spatial, social, and physical factors determine agricultural and stormwater management, and their impact on water. This dissertation explores these dimensions within a complex social-ecological system. The first chapter evaluates a participatory process to elicit solutions to complex environmental problems across science, policy, and practice. The second chapter studies on-farm soil assessment and its role in informing management decisions and supporting adaptive capacity. The third chapter investigates cross-scale dynamics of residential green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) for improved water resource management in a broader social-ecological context.
Integrating participant feedback into current science, research, and decision-making processes is an important challenge. A novel approach that combines a Delphi method with contemporary “crowdsourcing” to address water pollution in Lake Champlain Basin in the context of climate change is presented. Fifty-three participants proposed and commented on adaptive solutions in an online Delphi that occurred over a six-week period during the Spring of 2014. In a follow-up Multi-Stakeholder workshop, thirty-eight stakeholders participated in refining and synthesizing the forum’s results. The stakeholders’ interventions from the crowdsourcing forum have contributed to the current policy dialogue in Vermont to address phosphorus loading to Lake Champlain. This stakeholder approach strengthens traditional modeling scenario development to include priorities that have been collectively refined and vetted.
Healthy agricultural soils cannot easily be prescribed to farms and require knowledge and a long-term commitment to a holistic and adaptive approach. The second chapter addresses the questions: “to what extent do farmers use indicators of soil health, and does feedback inform management decisions?” A survey of farmers in two Vermont watersheds was conducted in 2016 showed relatively high use of fourteen soil indicators and high rankings of their importance. The finding that there were differences in use and perceived importance of soil indicators across management and land-use types has implications beyond the farm scale for agriculture, and the provision of ecosystem services. Soil management relates to broader adaptation strategies including resistance, resilience, and transformation that affects adaptive capacity of agroecosystems.
Bottom-up adoption of environmental behaviors, such as implementing residential GSI, need to be understood in the context of the broader social-ecological landscape to understand implications for improved water management. A statewide survey of Vermont residents paired a cross-scale and spatial analysis to evaluate how intention to adopt three different GSI practices (infiltration trenches, diversion of roof runoff, and rain gardens) varies with barriers to adoption and household attributes across varying stormwater contexts from the household to watershed scale. Improved stormwater management outcomes at the watershed and local levels depend on management strategies that can be implemented and adapted along the rural-urban gradient, across the bio-physical landscape, and according to varying norms and institutional arrangements.
Number of Pages
Coleman, Sarah, "Bottom-up adaptive management and stakeholder participation for clean water and healthy soils in a complex social-ecological system" (2018). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 853.