Linking key elements and system understanding: The Earth Resilience and Sustainability Initiative’s research focuses on the dynamic interaction between the Earth’s social, ecological, and technological systems from local to global scales. Our interdisciplinary teams investigate the mechanisms that drive social, ecological, and technological change, the systemic risks and resilience of these systems, as well as potential tipping points across systems and networks. For example, we analyze trade networks of global food systems, and the interdependent flows of food, finances, and people on global networks. We aim to understand the relationships between the governance of cities and their impacts on local, regional, and global ecosystems, as well as the well-being of their citizens. In seeking pathways of transformation towards sustainability for our urban planet, we investigate the drivers of human behavior, and how collective behaviors shape the trajectory of different societies and ecosystems, and the Earth as a whole.

Key research questions:

  • What are the mechanisms that lead to social, ecological, and technological change and system tipping?
  • How do transformations manifest within and spread across systems in space and time?
  • How can we identify systemic risks and promote resilience in multi-level, multiplex networks?
  • How do people perceive and behave in response to multi-level risks and uncertainty?
  • What governance interventions enable transformations to sustainability by promoting pro-social, pro-environmental, and sustainable decision-making?

Global Food Systems

In view of the numerous ways that food connects people and the environment—and the great potential of food to foster human and environmental health—the Global Food Systems team focuses on a central sustainability challenge: feeding the world in 2050 without decimating the planet. Our research stems from the premise that food is a coupled human-natural system with flows of food products, money, people, and information across local to global scales. We study linkages and trade-offs among these multiscalar flows in the context of diverse terrestrial and aquatic food systems using quantitative and qualitative approaches from diverse fields. Our overarching goal is to develop frameworks, tools, and knowledge that inform and advance food system management and governance in an increasingly interconnected world.


Princeton: Sara Constantino, Lars Hedin, Victoria Junquera, Simon Levin, Saverio Perri, Amilcare Porporato, Daniel Rubenstein

PIK: Wolf Barfuss, Jonathan Donges

SRC: Laura Elsler, Line Gordon, Juan Rocha, Lan Wang-Erlandsson, Emmy Wassénius

Other institutions: Andrew Carlson, Elisabeth Krueger, Wenying Liao


Victoria Junquera (

Saverio Perri (

Urban Sustainability Transformations – Towards Urban Planetary Stewardship

The Urban Sustainability Transformations team focuses on transformations of social norms and behaviors, such as shifts from meat- and dairy-based to plant-based diets, and the spread of technological innovations, such as the implementation of circular and environmentally sensitive urban water systems. Collective action is needed if we are to avoid disastrous tipping elements and create sustainable development pathways in coupled social-ecological-technological systems. Human behavior is of profound significance for sustainable collective action. Narrow and simplistic assumptions about human behavior contribute to environmental policy failures. We investigate the role of human behavior for resilience and sustainability using a multi-method approach, combining conceptual work, mathematical models, behavioral experiments, empirical data and resilient and sustainable mechanism design.

Based on a more profound understanding of collective action, we aim to identify governance interventions that can lead to social tipping by first describing and understanding the complex feedbacks and non-linearities of coupled social, ecological, and technological systems. We focus on processes and interventions that have the potential of significantly impacting local and global ecosystems across spatial and temporal scales. Our research is driven by the idea of transforming cities from being the drivers of climate change and ecosystem decline towards becoming the stewards of the planet. Our work involves the development of novel frameworks and concepts for addressing these complex problems, the development of mechanistic models of social tipping and spreading processes across multi-layer and multiplex networks, and the coupling of processes from the individual, to the collective, to systems, and to networks of systems.


Princeton: Miguel Centeno, Sara Constantino, Mari Kawakatsu, Simon Levin, Guy Nordenson, Woi Sok Oh, Elke Weber

PIK: Wolf Barfuss, Jonathan Donges, Niklas Kitzmann

SRC: Thomas Elmqvist, Juan Rocha, Maja Schlüter

Other institutions: Andrew Carlson, Elisabeth Krueger, Fernando Santos, Vítor Vasconcelos


Elisabeth Krueger (

Woi Sok Oh (

Global Systemic Risks and Resilience

Time scales for Resilience and Sustainability

We investigate the role of time scales and their interaction at different spatial scales and that manifest in different locations of complex social-ecological-technological systems. Their timing and the synchronization of multiple processes of transformation are crucial in determining the trajectories of systems either towards sustainability, or towards system collapse.


Princeton: Miguel Centeno, Sara Constantino, Victoria Junquera, Simon Levin, Woi Sok Oh, Saverio Perri

PIK: Wolf Barfuss, Jonathan Donges, Niklas Kitzmann, Ricarda Winkelmann, Nico Wunderling

SRC: Carl Folke, Juan Rocha, Maja Schlüter

Other institutions: Andrew Carlson, Elisabeth Krueger


Jonathan Donges (

Juan Rocha (

Keystone actors for Earth resilience in the Anthropocene

How do keystone actors and their diverse risk assessments enhance or erode Earth system resilience?


Investigating how diverse risk assessments in network nodes generate actions that impact Earth system resilience, especially in the relation to interacting tipping elements. Linking the conceptual developments of risk and resilience in complex systems to Earth system models.


SRC: Laura Elsler, Carl Folke, Victor Galaz, Juan Rocha, Emmy Wassénius

Princeton: Miguel Centeno, Sara Constantino

PIK: Jonathan Donges, Ricarda Winkelmann, Nico Wunderling

Other institutions: Elisabeth Krueger


Sara Constantino (

Jonathan Donges (

Emmy Wassenius (

Nico Wunderling (

Global Systemic Risks and Resilience

This research focuses on developing an understanding of how ecological, behavioral, social, and institutional factors affect the robustness/vulnerability characteristics of social-ecological systems. The work combines qualitative insights from present-day, historical, and archaeological case studies of social-ecological systems with formal mathematical modeling and experiments with human subjects to study how individual decision-making processes interact with governance regimes to influence social and environmental outcomes. 


Other institutions: Marty Anderies


Marty Anderies (