Coupled human-environment systems theory

The future health of both human populations and natural systems depends on the two-way interaction between human systems and our environment: what humans do influences the environment, but the resulting changes in the environment in turn influence our perceptions and behaviour. Humans and their environment together thus form a single, coupled nonlinear system. Many traditional approaches in the sciences study environmental systems but ignore the coupling to human populations, or conversely they study human populations but ignore their coupling to environmental dynamics. On sufficiently long timescales, however, the coupling cannot be neglected. The study of coupled human-environment systems is concerned with improving our understanding these systems, how they respond to disturbances, and how both human health and ecosystem health emerge out of the coupled dynamics.

Because these systems are coupled and nonlinear, they are capable of exhibiting complex dynamics, and hence are best understood through complexity science approaches such as nonlinear mathematical modelling and agent-based modelling. Professor Chris Bauch’s research group in the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Waterloo is pursuing research on such coupled systems. His particular focus is on developing models of human-environment interactions in forest-grassland mosaic ecosystems, and human-disease interactions in the context of vaccines. His group’s research has a common focus on applying empirically motivated theoretical modelling to tackle problems of policy or fundamental scientific interest. Theoretical techniques include differential equations, agent-based models, and network models, all of which can capture the coupled nonlinear dynamics that characterize these systems. Much of this work is carried out in collaboration with Professor Madhur Anand, a Waterloo Institute for Complexity & Innovation (WICI) affiliate researcher in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph.


Press releases


  • T. Oraby, C.T. Bauch (2014). `The influence of social norms on dynamics of paediatric vaccinating behaviour’. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 281:20133172.
  • C. Innes, M. Anand, C.T. Bauch (2013). `The impact of human-environment interactions on the stability of forest-grassland mosaic ecosystems’. Scientific Reports 3:2689.
  • C.T. Bauch, A.P. Galvani (2013). `Social factors in epidemiology’. Science 342:47-49.

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