Archive for the ‘Socio-ecological systems’ Category

The ideals of ecosystem service research

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Ralf Seppelt and his co-authors from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig (Germany) recently published an interesting inquiry into how ecosystem service research is actually conducted (pdf available here). They draw conclusions on how it should be done.

They focused on ecosystem service studies at the regional scale, looking at 153 publications. Most studies focused on single ecosystem services (usually provisioning), using proxy-data (such as land-use or land-cover maps). Interestingly, the authors conclude that less than one third of the studies they reviewed provided a sound basis for their conclusions…

From their review, R. Seppelt and his co-authors suggest four key components for high quality ecosystem service research:

  • Establishing the biophysical basis for ecosystem service delivery
  • Analysing trade-offs between multiple ecosystem services, in a context of environmental change and ecosystem management decisions
  • Analysing off-site effects of ecosystem management decisions on ecosystem services
  • Involving stakeholders in identifying ecosystem services, ground-truthing conclusions and management options
  • They list key criteria on which to assess whether a particular ecosystem service study actually follows their suggested guidelines. Table 1 below is taken from their paper.

    Table 1 from Seppelt et al. (2011) in Journal of Applied Ecology

    The authors mention biophysical realism as a necessary criteria for ecosystem services studies to provide a sound basis for decision making. It could be argued that the same could apply to “socio-political” or “socio-economic” realism. Stakeholder involvement does not necessarily guarantee such realism, especially when stakeholders have very heterogeneous needs and preferences and/or where there are important power asymmetries between stakeholders.

    Vulnerability, resilience and sustainability

    Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

    In an interesting review paper published in Global Environmental Change, Billie L. Turner outlines the separate trajectories of vulnerability and resilience research and argues that both could “join forces” and contribute to the wider goals of sustainability science. One of his main claims is that this can be done if both fields of enquiry explicitly address trade-offs in ecosystem services.

    According to Billie Turner, vulnerability has mainly focused on the effects of abrupt, external changes, on human societies and communities. In doing so, it has generated a strong literature on human adaptation and adaptive capacity (one of the three pillars of vulnerability with exposure and sensitivity). Multiple ecosystem services, and their inherent trade-offs, are however rarely addressed.

    On the contrary, while they also investigate the capacity of socio-ecological systems to self-organize and to learn and adapt, most studies of resilience have focused more strongly on the response of ecosystem-level properties to external shocks. In doing so, trade-offs between multiple ecosystem processes and functions are investigated but rarely linked to human well-fare (security, health, material well-being, social relations etc.).

    Billie Turner tells us that because decision making actually compares alternatives in terms of human well-fare (in a broad sense), the multiple pathways between it and ecosystem properties – which operate at multiple spatial scales and with multiple underlying values – must be investigated. Trade-off analysis enables us to track such pathways.

    Within sustainability science and assisted by researchers working at the interface of research-application and open to multiple explanatory perspectives, efforts have begun that point to improved integration of vulnerability and resilience research.

    He concludes that both vulnerability and resilience research would usefully contribute to furthering our understanding of trade-offs between multiple ecosystem services in a manner conductive to decision-making and sustainability.