Approaches to effectively integrate conservation planning across different levels (e.g. local, national, global) remain elusive, despite the increasing awareness of its importance. To plan across multiple levels most effectively, the relative strengths and weaknesses of planning at different levels must be understood. In a new paper led by Jess Cheok, published in Ecology and Society, the Coral Triangle region is used as a case study to assess the extent to which conservation plans developed at one level, adequately consider components of social and ecological systems at other levels. For an example, to what extent is a local conservation plan able to consider large-patch ecosystems (ecological component) or national policies (social component), which reflect the regional level of a complex social-ecological system? The authors term the ability of conservation plans to consider these social and ecological components across different levels, ‘scalar coverage’.

The study applies an adapted social-ecological systems framework to assess the scalar coverage of 18 conservation plans developed at patch, local, regional, and international levels, found within the Coral Triangle region. This research identifies levels of planning that demonstrate the greatest capacity for scalar coverage, and this has important implications for strategies seeking to effectively integrate planning across multiple levels. The results highlight differences in the limitations associated with lower- and higher-level conservation planning (e.g. conceptual versus technical limitations), and provide pragmatic recommendations to help conservation practitioners overcome these. This study also illustrates how practitioners can use the social-ecological systems framework as a practical tool to evaluate the scalar coverage of conservation plans and encourage integration between levels of planning.

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