Advancing Environmental Stewardship: Management, Governance, and Social-Ecological Resilience

Bridge in New Brunswick

Advancing environmental stewardship is about recognizing the critical and inextricable linkages between humans and the environment and pursuing research that sets us, as individuals, communities, nations and as a global community, on a trajectory towards sustainability.

Our research group tends to use social-ecological resilience as a lens by which we view environmental issues. It is consistent with our recognition of the interconnectedness of humans and the environment – that there are many, complex relationships – and emphasizes principles and attributes of social-ecological (or human-environment) systems that support sustainability.

We tend to be particularly interested in the management (i.e., day-to-day operations and decision-making) and governance (i.e., broader, strategic direction setting and decision-making) of our environment. Within these areas of interest, our research:

  • Spans multiple contexts: from water to biodiversity conservation to climate change adaptation
  • Includes a variety of facets of management and governance: from adaptive capacity to learning and collaboration to social networks
  • Draws on diverse methods to answer research questions: from quantitative survey and modeling approaches to qualitative inquiries to implementing a range of mixed methods.

Our research has been situated in many parts of Canada, the US, several countries in Europe, and in Australia.

Current Research Group Members

Ryan Plummer

Director, ESRC, Brock University
Adjunct Professor, Sustainability Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast
Adjunct Faculty, Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo

Office: Theal House
Phone: +1-905-688-5550 x.4782

PhD, University of Guelph (Rural Studies)
MA, University of New Brunswick (Sport and Recreation Administration)
BOR (Hons), Lakehead University (Outdoor Recreation)
BA, Lakehead University (History)

About Ryan:
Ryan’s multi-faceted program of research broadly concerns the governance of social-ecological systems. In striving to advance knowledge of collaboration and adaptation within complex systems, he has focused on the exploring their theoretical underpinnings and ethical implications, modeling their processes, examining the roles of social capital, and investigating the influences of social learning. Water resources are the context in which his research mainly occurs.

Findings from his research have been published in leading international journals such as Ecological Economics, Ecology and Society, Environmental Management, Frontiers in Ecology and Society, Global Environmental Change, Journal of Environmental Management, Society and Natural Resources and the UN journal, Natural Resources Forum. In addition, he is the author of Outdoor Recreation (Routledge, 2010), and co-editor of Adaptive Capacity and the Making of Environmental Governance (with D. Armitage, Springer, 2010) and Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems: the Role of Learning and Education (with M.E. Krasny and C. Lundholm, Routledge, 2011). He serves as a Subject Editor for Ecology and Society.

The scholarly quality of his research program was formally recognized in 2008 with the awarding of a Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence. In 2004 he received the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences Award for Teaching Excellence and in 2008 he was selected as one of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) Excellence in Education Award winners for Promotion of Sustainable Practices.

Research Interests:

  • novel governance strategies and social – ecological systems
  • adaptive co-management
  • adaptation and adaptive capacity
  • community-based natural resource management
  • integrated resource management
  • social capital and social learning
  • resilience and vulnerability

How does your research relate to sustainability/ESRC?
Uncertainty, complexity and conflict characterize contemporary environmental challenges. Social-ecological systems emphasize an integrative perspective as human and biophysical systems are connected or linked. How society steers towards sustainable trajectories is a critical question. The sustainability science orientation of ESRC provides an ideal lens to study social-ecological systems and innovative forms of environment governance.

Julia Baird


Assistant Professor, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre 

Julia Baird is an Assistant Professor at Brock University. Julia’s research focuses on the human dimensions of water resources. She is particularly interested in water resilience, improving outcomes of water governance by improving processes, and agricultural impacts on water.

Ph.D. University of Saskatchewan (Environment and Sustainability)
M.Sc. University of Saskatchewan (Soil Science)
B.Sc. (Distinction) University of Alberta (Crop Science)

Current Master of Sustainability candidate under the supervision of Ryan Plummer.

Shannon holds a Bachelor of Social Work and a Social Work Diploma from Grant MacEwan University in Alberta. Her research interests revolve around community engagement in sustainability, attachment to place, and sustainability science translation to communities.

Current Master of Sustainability candidate under the supervision of Dr. Ryan Plummer

Savannah graduated from the University of Guelph in 2017 with a Bachelor of Environmental Science, majoring in Ecology. Her research interests include outdoor education, nature connection, the intersection of human and environmental health and environmental psychology.

Current Master of Sustainability candidate under the supervision of Ryan Plummer.

Tannaz holds a BSc. in architectural engineering from Azad University in Iran and an MSc in architecture from Politecnico di Milano University in Italy. Her research interests revolve around the relation between human and the built environment, the reflection of social sustainability in urban environment and human everyday life, sustainable urban development, green transportation and green cities.

Past Research Group Members

Leaya Amey

Master of Sustainability, Brock University

MRP: Website Communications for Campus Sustainability: An Analysis of Canadian Universities’ Sustainability Websites and Sustainability Plans

Leaya holds a BA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University. Leaya is interested in corporate sustainability initiatives, alternative energy, and environmental communication. Her MRP research examined effective framing strategies to communicate environmental messages in order to inform, educate, and encourage pro-environmental behaviour.

Gillian Dale


Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre

Gillian is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the ESRC. She holds a Ph.D. in Behavioural Neuroscience (Cognitive Psychology) from Brock University, and previously held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her previous research explored individual difference factors (i.e., personality, affect, motivational intensity, etc.) that explain variations in cognitive performance and behaviour. She has extensive experience with research design, questionnaire development and validation, and advanced data analysis. Currently, she is interested in extending her line of research by applying her expertise in both human behaviour and advanced data analysis to real-world problems (e.g., water resilience; environmental stewardship).


Ph.D. in Behavioural Neuroscience (Cognitive Psychology), Brock University

Angela Dzyundzyak

Angela completed her PhD in Psychology (Behavioural Neuroscience) at Brock University in the fall of 2014 and a year later, became involved with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre through a post-doctorial position. Her knowledge of statistical methods as applied to self-report measures was a good fit for data collection strategies utilized in the BiosACM and CADWAGO projects. Angela’s responsibilities at the ESRC were focused on data analysis and modelling to support the reports, presentations and publications from those projects. Although she is still involved in research through the Psychology Department at Brock University, Angela is currently pursuing a career in the field of Clinical Psychology.

Alison Feist

Twitter: @alison_feist

Master of Sustainability, Brock University 

Thesis: Dissecting Collaboration in Environmental Management and Governance: Examining Qualities, Outcomes, and Relationships

Alison is a graduate from the University of Guelph with a BA in Geography, and received her Master of Sustainability at Brock University. Her interests surround environmental management and conservation strategies, and how we can improve these processes through investigating collaboration. In her thesis research, she investigated collaborative environmental processes in a management and governance context. Some of her past course related research projects involved perceptions of prescribed burns, and water vulnerability assessment frameworks.

Former Master of Sustainability Candidate under the supervision of Ryan Plummer

Alicia is a graduate of Colorado State University with an MS in Rangeland Ecosystem Science, and of Baldwin Wallace University with an interdisciplinary BA degree in Biology, Sociology, and Political Science. Her interests encircle citizen science as a vehicle to build resilience thinking while reducing vulnerabilities. Her past research focused on demographic and land use changes within the United States.

Katrina Krevins

Master of Sustainability, Brock University

Thesis: Pushing the Boundaries of Freshwater Ecosystem Restoration: Evaluating a Conservation Initiative in terms of social-ecological resilience (under the supervision of Dr. Ryan Plummer)

Katrina has a BA (honours) in Tourism and Environment (Brock University), Ecosystem Restoration Graduate Certificate (Niagara College), and completed her Master of Sustainability at Brock in 2016. Her interests are in stream restoration, and her acceptance into the Watershed and Aquatics Training in Environmental Research (WATER) Program during her masters supported her pursuit of her thesis research experience. After successfully defending her thesis in the master of sustainability program, Katrina is now working as a conservation program assistant with the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve and Eastern Georgian Bay Stewardship Council.

Angela Mallette

Master of Sustainability, Brock University

Thesis: Understanding perceptions of the state of the environment in relation to ecological measures: Intergroup differences and the influences of an interpretive program

Angela holds a BSc in Biology as well as a BEd in Secondary Education from Bishop’s University, QC. Her interests include biodiversity conservation, stewardship, and environmental education. Her thesis research focused on perceptions of the state of the environment, ecological integrity in parks and protected areas, and the influence of environmental education on perceptions. Angela’s research took place in the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve of the Niagara Parks Commission in Summer 2018.

Samantha Witkowski


Twitter: @_SamanthaWit

Master of Sustainability, Brock University

Samantha holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Laurentian University, and completed her Master of Sustainability at Brock University in 2020. Her interests surround participatory monitoring and evaluation (PM&E) strategies in environmental planning and management. In her thesis research, she investigated how the critical PM&E phase influences the broader collaborative process. This research involved a systematic review of literature encompassing monitoring and evaluation associated with collaborative and adaptive environmental management. The insights gained from this scholarship were applied and assessed within a local environmental stewardship initiative in Summer 2019. 

Shelby McFadden


Master of Sustainability, 2021

Shelby holds a BAS in Environmental Science and Political Science from Trent University, and is currently working towards her Master of Sustainability at Brock University. Her interests revolve around human values, motivations, and other factors that contribute to pro-environmental behaviour. Her MRP research investigated the role one or several of these factors play in environmental stewardship.

President, Green Health Global


Twitter: @PickeringKerrie

PHD in Sustainability Candidate, Brock University and University of Sunshine Coast 

Kerrie Pickering explores the intersection between health and the environment. Her interest comes from an international career as an RN and having completed a BSc Environmental Studies followed by a MA Geography. As a PhD candidate at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia Kerrie’s research will examine the relationship among country foods and the health and wellbeing of indigenous people in times of environmental change. Kerrie is also conducting research exploring if engagement in citizen science impacts the well-being of nursing home residents. Past research includes assessing the adaptive capacity of the Ontario wine industry for climate change adaptation; project manager for a Niagara climate change collaborative management project; research assistant investigating adaptive collaborative management in biosphere reserves in Canada and Sweden. Kerrie is also President of the Ontario Nurses for the Environment Interest Group of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario.

Whiteboard Seminar with Kerrie Pickering: Pharmaceuticals in our Tap Water

Janani Sivarajah

Twitter: @JananiSivarajah
Please visit her website here.
Please see her google scholar profile here.

Post-Doctoral Fellow, ESRC, Brock University
Research Associate, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University

PhD, University of Toronto (Urban Forestry)
MFC, University of Toronto (Forest Conservation)
BSc. (Hons), University of Toronto (Integrative Biology and French)

About Janani:
Janani Sivarajah is an urban ecology, urban greening, and plant biology researcher, educator, and consultant. Her transdisciplinary research explores the ecosystem services of urban trees and public green spaces, and finds greening solutions to improve the socio-ecological resilience of cities. She is particularly interested in building multifunctional landscapes and proposing nature-based solutions to global environmental challenges (e.g., climate change, increasing UV, heatwaves). Her work has found direct and relevant applications in both public health and environmental fields. She is a Registered Professional Forester in Training, President of the Ontario Urban Forest Council, and member of the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition, Shade Policy Steering Committee. She enjoys public engagement, science communication, and hiking through the woods.

Brooke Kapeller


Twitter: @BrookeKapeller

Master of Sustainability, Class of 2022

Brooke holds a BSc in Geography (concentration in GIS) from the University of Lethbridge, AB, and a diploma in Renewable Resource Management from Lethbridge College, AB. Her interests include environmental stewardship, parks and protected areas, conservation, and geospatial technology. Her thesis research focused on understanding environmental stewardship in the Niagara Region; specifically, how configurations of different stewardship elements may relate to desired outcomes and successful initiatives. This research involved an inventory and mapping of all stewardship initiatives occurring in the region from 2012-2017.

Bridget McGlynn


Master of Sustainability, Class of 2022

Bridget holds a HBSc in Integrated Science from McMaster University. Her interests revolve around complex adaptive systems and water resource governance. For her thesis research she investigated collaborative governance in the St. John River Basin with a focus on social-ecological feedbacks and governance fit.

Example Research Projects

BiosACM: Sustaining Biosphere Reserves through Adaptive Co-management, a project led by Dr. Ryan Plummer (Brock University) and Dr. Lisen Schultz (Stockholm Resilience Centre) examining collaboration, learning, and outcomes in two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Sweden, and two in Canada

Collaboration in Natural Disaster Response: Evidence from the 2016 Canadian (Fort McMurray) Wildfire: A team of researchers from The University of Alberta (Dr. Bob Summers), Stockholm University (Dr. Ӧrjan Bodin), Uppsala University (Dr. Daniel Nohrstedt) and Brock University (Dr. Ryan Plummer; Dr. Julia Baird) examined the role of networks, collaboration, and improvisation in a comparative study of responses from the 2016 Fort McMurray fire and the 2014 wildfire in Sweden.

Stockholm Resilience Centre

Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance (CADWAGO)

Water security is a global challenge. This research project, involving an international consortium of researchers, aimed to address this challenge through identifying appropriate responses to the impacts of climate change on water resources. Ryan Plummer led Work Package 1 of this project, exploring the relationship between how water systems are perceived (using a resilience lens), how they are governed and perspectives on how they should be governed. Cases from around the globe were used to identify potential patterns within and among these variables and to draw lessons for enabling water security.

The main findings from the project were:

  • The relationship between how ecosystems (focused on water) are perceived and the governance approaches that are in use or should be in use is not straightforward.
  • Favoured governance approaches to water resources tend to include state actors.
  • A pragmatic approach to governance was identified where multiple conceptions of ecosystems, varied preferences for governance approaches and there was a need to respond to multiple, complex crises as they occurred.

This research was funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, the Volkswagen Stiftung and Compagnia di San Paolo through the Europe and Global Challenges programme.

To read more about this project, see the CADWAGO website: and see publications from Work Package 1 in publications list.

Applying Resilience Analysis to a Transboundary River System: Developing Surrogates for Governance

Social-ecological resilience, i.e., the amount of change a system can withstand, the degree of self-organization possible, and the ability to learn and adapt, is critical for ensuring the long-term sustainability of social-ecological systems. Application of resilience and its analytical processes have primarily been developed for ecosystems. Application of resilience to the social world is unique and requires additional considerations. An opportunity thus existed to focus on aspects of governance and to build upon initial works addressing resilience of river systems.

The aim of the research was to explore resilience in relation to social aspects surrounding governance of a river system, conduct a resilience analysis on a transboundary river system with a focus on governance, and identify resilience surrogates from the analysis with potential transferability to other transboundary river systems. It engaged several research partners, including WWF Canada, Trout Unlimited Canada, Meduxnekeag River Association, Canadian Rivers Institute, Stockholm Environment Institute, WIGG Lab (University of Victoria), and POLIS Project on Ecological Governance. It included a Dephi study of experts, case studies of watershed organizations and a social-ecological inventory of the St. John River Basin.

The main outcomes of this research project were:

  • Conceptual advancement of governance attributes that confer and restrain resilience in relation to river systems
  • Insights into transboundary water governance.
  • Insight and experience for applying resilience analysis in aquatic systems.
  • Methodological/analytical advancement within water resources management and resilience analyses/measurement.

This research was funded by SSHRC through the Water Economics, Policy and Governance Network as well as an Insight Grant and by the Canadian Water Network.

Adaptive Collaborative Risk Management and Climate Change in the Niagara Region: A Participatory Integrated Assessment Approach for Sustainable Solutions and Transformative Change

Can adaptive co-management approaches be designed for adaptation to climate change? This research project sought to answer this question through an action research approach in the Niagara Region of Ontario, Canada.

The main outcomes from this project were:

  • Development of an approach to quantitatively measure learning (cognitive, normative, relational)
  • Evidence that the development and operation of an adaptive co-management approach to climate change adaptation can be designed and facilitated
  • Application of a social network approach to understanding the development of adaptive co-management
  • Identification of actor networks as a necessary but insufficient condition for sustaining adaptive co-management over time

This research was funded by Environment Canada.