Geovisualizing, representing, analyzing, modeling, and simulating

Complex Human-Environment Systems (CHES)

for improved envisioning, understanding, and planning



Complex Systems Theory (CS Theory)


Complex systems theory (also known as complexity theory or complexity perspective) has partially originated from general systems theory (von Bertalanffy 1968; Warren et al. 1998). It focuses on understanding complex systems or complex adaptive systems. Complex systems often encompass a (often large) number of entities and subsystems, among which we often observe multiple interactions, nonlinear relationships, feedback, thresholds, time lags, and adaptation. As a result, these features in complex systems can lead to emergent phenomena or outcomes that are not analytically tractable from system components and their attributes alone.

From an empirical perspective, meta-analysis of multiple empirical human-nature studies has confirmed the aforementioned complexity features multiple sites around the world including the Amazon, the southern Yucat¨˘n in Mexico, the Wolong Nature Reserve of China, and Northern Ecuador (Liu et al. 2007). This perspective, and the associated modeling methods such as agent-based modeling, is not intended to be a replacement of traditional linear or other perspectives, instead their value lies in its capability as a systematic paradigm to help scientists harness the learning possibilities of existing complexity in the system of interest and take innovative action to steer it in beneficial directions (Axelrod & Cohen 1999).

Axelrod, R., and M.D. Cohen (1999). Harnessing complexity: organizational implications of a scientific frontier. The Free Press: New York.

Liu J, T. Dietz, S.R. Carpenter, M. Alberti, C. Folke, E. Moran, A.N. Pell, P. Deadman, T. Kratz, J. Lubchenco, E. Ostrom, Z. Ouyang, W. Provencher, C.L. Redman, S.H. Schneider, and W.W. Taylor (2007). Complexity of coupled human and natural systems. Science: 317:1513-16.

Von Bertalanffy, L. (1968). General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications. George Braziller, Inc.: New York.

Warren, K., C. Franklin, and C.L. Streeter (1998). New directions in systems theory: chaos and complexity. Social Work 43: 357¨C372.