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How does nature contribute to human mobility? A conceptual framework and qualitative analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Helen Joyce Adams, Charlotte Wiederkehr , Kathleen Hermans, Matthias Schroeter, Ralf Seppelt

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology And Society
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 4 Nov 2019

King's Authors


Different types of mobility are known as longstanding strategies used by humans to deal with environmental pressure. Immobility is relevant in this context as population groups may be at considerable risk but lacking the capacity or willingness to move. Despite significant advances in this research field, grasping especially the subjective dimension of people’s migration decision remains challenging. Moreover, the conceptualisation of cultural factors in this context has received rather marginal attention thus far. In light of this, we propose a framework that integrates the novel concept of nature’s contributions to people (NCP) with migration theory, in particular the triad of migration need, ability and aspiration. NCP goes beyond the popular notion of ecosystem services by conceiving nature-society relations in a more inclusive way with culture being a key element of these. Combined with migration need, ability and aspiration, we argue that this approach offers a valuable nuanced perspective on nature-mobility interactions, including cultural aspects of natural resource use and varying degrees of agency related to mobility decision-making. We apply the framework to two archetypal climate-related migration situations – southwestern coastal Bangladesh and the northern Ethiopian highlands – to delineate the diverse mechanisms through which environmental change shapes population movement in highly resource-dependent livelihoods. We show that based on the analysed case studies most links can be drawn between material and regulating NCP and migration need, and that non-environmental factors play a crucial role in mediating nature’s contributions to human mobility. More knowledge is needed though in particular on the influence of non-material NCP on mobility decision-making and on migration aspirations in general to better account for important cultural factors. We formulate a number of hypotheses and questions relevant for guiding future research that can inform policy interventions.

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