Karina Benessaiah

Ph.D. Geography
COOR 5649E
Research Interests: 

Social-ecological systems; land change; economic crisis; food systems; vulnerability; adaptation; transformation; resilience; livelihoods; development; ecosystem services; illicit economies; informal markets; Europe; Latin America; coastal areas; forests; agriculture; back to land


Area of specialization: 

My research focuses on understanding how people adapt to rapid, multifaceted social-ecological changes – often called crises – and assessing societal and environmental transformations. Environmental changes, economic recessions, globalized trade are all drivers of change that shape livelihoods and environments around the world, often in unexpected ways. Understanding the processes involved in those social-ecological transformations highlights emergent vulnerabilities and potential opportunities towards sustainable and equitable pathways. I use approaches and methods from global land change, political ecology, resilience, and sustainability science to study these dynamics. Specifically, I am interested in three interrelated main domains:

1)      Adaptations and Transformations

2)      Social-ecological changes in a teleconnected world

3)      Socializing ecosystem services

Dissertation work:

The 2008 global financial crisis constitutes a major driver of social-ecological change at different scales; its ramifications have yet to be fully explored. In my dissertation, using Greece, the poster child of the euro-crisis as a case-study, I examine how adaptive capacity is mobilized, maintained and/or enhanced in the context of changing food systems. To do so, I focus on the back-to-land trend whereby urbanites seek to engage in food production presumably in order to cope and adapt to the ongoing economic recession. This back-to-land trend is occurring in the midst of deep and violent restructuring of Greece’s governance, economic, social and ecological systems due to the imposition of austerity measures by the Troika. Renewed interest for food production speaks to debates over 1) food security and resilience and 2) the restructuring of agriculture in developed countries. Indeed, this back-to-land trend is manifesting in a European context characterized by a dwindling primary sector headed by ageing farmers and a deep transformation of rural and urban spaces. I thus am particularly interested in the pathways that enable natural capital- i.e., land in particular- to become a safety net in times of crisis, highlighting the different formal and informal institutional arrangements that facilitate access (or lack thereof) to key ecosystem services. I explore the process of natural capital creation by linking livelihood/capability approaches to ecosystem services research. This research also aims to improve a subset of ecosystem services research interested in the social-ecological co-production of benefits and how those translate into human wellbeing. This case-study highlights how natural capital is co-produced and plays a critical role in times of crisis. By focusing on co-production, I emphasize the role of agency in shaping how people negotiate their lives and interact with – sometimes even transform – the very institutions that structure their choices.


Other projects:

1. Governance and transformations in teleconnected world in collaboration with  members of the Hallie Eakin lab

2. Landscape transformations in Central America in collaboration with an international team of scholars

3. Relational values and ecosystem services in collaboration with Kai M. Chan and an international team of scholars.


Present-  PhD. Candidate, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, ASU, Tempe, AZ. Dissertation :" Social-Ecologies of Crisis: Assessing the back-to-land movement in Greece". 

2008  Master of Science, Geography, McGill University, QC. Thesis: “Mangroves, shrimp aquaculture and coastal livelihoods in the Estero Real, Gulf of Fonseca, Nicaragua”

2004 Bachelor of Science, Environment (Renewable Resources Management) and Political Science (minor), McGill University, QC

Awards and Honors: 

 Trudeau Scholar 2010-2013  http://www.trudeaufoundation.ca/program/scholarships/current/2010/karina...

Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC) fellow 2009-2013

Courses Taught: 

GPH 381 Geographies of Natural Resources

Professional Publications: 

M.Milkoreit, J. Hodbod,  J. Baggio, K. Benessaiah,  R.Calderon Contreras, J. F. Donges,JD Mathias, J. C. Rocha, M. Schoon, and S.E. Werners. Defining Tipping Points for Social-Ecological Systems Scholarship – An Interdisciplinary Literature Review. Environmental Research Letters (accepted). http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aaaa75/pdf 

Force A., D. Manuel-Navarrete and K. Benessaiah. 2017. Tourism and transitions toward sustainability: developing tourists’ pro-sustainability agency. Sustainability Science: 1-15. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11625-017-0448-y 

Steven E Sesnie, Beth Tellman, David Wrathall, Kendra McSweeney, Erik Nielsen, Karina Benessaiah, Ophelia Wang, Luis Rey. "A spatio-temporal analysis of forest loss related to cocaine trafficking in Central America." Environmental Research Letters, 2017; 12 (5): 054015 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa6fff

Chan KMA, P. Balvanera, K. Benessaiah, M. Chapman, S. Diaz, E. Gómez-Baggethun, RK. Gould, N. Hannahs, K. Jax, SC. Klain, G. Luck, B. Martín- López, B. Muraca, B. Norton, K. Ott, U. Pascual, T. Satterfield, M. Tadaki, J. Taggart, NJ. Turner. 2016. “Why Protect Nature? Rethinking Values and the Environment”. PNAS Vol. 113 (6): 1462-1465.

Turner VK., K. Benessaiah, SD Warren, D Iwaniec. 2015. Essential tensions in interdisciplinary scholarship: navigating challenges in affect, epistemologies, and structure in environment-society research centers. Higher Education  1-17. 

Benessaiah K. and R. Sengupta. 2014. Shrimp aquaculture, livelihoods and coastal lagoons in the Estero Real, Nicaragua: the need to integrate ecosystem-based approaches to social-ecological research. Environmental Management 54 (2): 162-179.

Benessaiah, K., & Sayles, J. (2014). Drug Trafficking's Effects on Coastal Ecosystems. Science343, 1431-1431.

Raymond, C., G. Singh, K. Benessaiah, N. Turner, H. Nelson, K. Chan. 2013. Engaging multiple disciplines in ecosystem services research and assessment: a reply to Orenstein. Bioscience 63 (12): 913-914.   

Raymond, C., G.G. Singh, K. Benessaiah, J. R. Bernhardt, J. Levine, H. Nelson, N.J. Turner, B. Norton, J. Tam and K. MA. Chan. 2013. "Ecosystem Services and Beyond". Bioscience 63 (7): 536-546.   

Benessaiah, K. 2012. "Carbon and livelihoods in Post-Kyoto: Assessing voluntary carbon markets". Ecological Economics 77 :1-6.   

Benessaiah, K. 2012. Disaster culture: knowledge and uncertainty in the wake of human and environment catastrophe. Book review, Human Ecology 40 (3): 483.   

Eakin, H.; K. Benessaiah; J. Barrera; G. Cruz-Bello, and H. Morales.2011. “Livelihoods and Landscapes at the Threshold of Change: Disaster and Resilience in a Chiapas Coffee Community”. Regional Environmental Change(): 1-14.   

Raudsepp-Hearne, C; Peterson, G. D. ; Tengo, M; Bennett, E.M.; Holland, T.; Benessaiah, K.;  Macdonald, G.K.; Pfeifer, L. 2010 “Untangling the environmentalist’s paradox: why is human well-being increasing as ecosystem services degrade?”. Bioscience, Vol.60, issue 8, Sept. 2010, 576-589.   

Benessaiah, K. 2010. Marine Aquaculture. Encyclopedia of Geography. Wharf, B (ed). Sage. Spring 2010.  

Oestreicher, J. S., K. Benessaiah, M. C. Ruiz-Jaen, S. Sloan, K. Turner, J. Pelletier, B. Guay, K. E. Clark, D. G. Roche and M. Meiners (2009). "Avoiding deforestation in Panamanian protected areas: An analysis of protection effectiveness and implications for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation." Global Environmental Change 19(2): 279-291.  

Benessaiah, K. 2007. “Mangroves, shrimp farming and coastal livelihoods: land use/cover change in the Gulf of Fonseca, Nicaragua”. Conference proceedings, Congress for Humanities CIDA-CFHSS Graduate Competition: Saskatoon, Canada