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Recognizing the continued human domination of landscapes across the globe, social-ecological systems (SES) research has proliferated, necessitating interdisciplinary collaborations. Although interdisciplinary research started gaining traction in academic settings close to 50 years ago, formal frameworks for SES research did not develop until the late 1990s. The first National Science Foundation (NSF) funding mechanism specifically for interdisciplinary SES research began in 2001 and the SES-specific Coupled Natural Human (CNH) Systems program began in 2007. We used data on funded NSF projects from 2000 to 2015 to examine how SES research was funded, where the research is published, and the scholarly impact of SES research. Despite specific programs for funding SES research within the NSF, this type of research also received funding from non-SES mission programs (e.g., Ecosystem Science constituted 19% of grants in our study, and Hydrology constituted 16% of grants). Although NSF funding for SES research originates from across programs, the majority of products are published in journals with a focus on ecological sciences. Grants funded through the Coupled Natural Human Systems programs were more likely to publish at least one paper that was highly interdisciplinary (Biological Sciences [BE-CNH] constituted 70% of grants in program, and Geosciences [GEO-CNH] constituted 48% of grants) than the traditional disciplinary programs (Ecology [ES], 35% and Hydrology, 27%). This result highlights the utility of these cross-cutting programs in producing and widely disseminating SES research. We found that the number of citations was higher in BE-CNH and ES than other programs, pointing to greater scholarly impact of SES research in these NSF programs. Through our research, we identified the need for institutions to recognize research products and deliverables beyond the “standard” peer-reviewed manuscripts, as SES and interdisciplinary research and unconventional research products (e.g., popular press articles, online StoryMaps, workshops, white papers) continue to grow and are important to the broader societal impact of these types of research programs. This project demonstrates that the outcomes and products of grants awarded through the NSF CNH programs are important to furthering SES research and the programs should be valued and expanded in the future.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.