Archive for the ‘Thresholds’ Category

I’ll never use anything but New Mexico piñon in my candy!

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

David D. Breshears, Laura López-Hoffman and Lisa J. Graumlich published an interesting paper in the journal AMBIO on adaptation to sudden ecosystem crashes that strongly affect the delivery of ecosystem services.

They argue that climate change might lead to increasingly frequent events of sudden, large and patchy ecosystem crashes were ecosystems undergo important changes in their structure and functioning. Because the particular timing, location and intensity of ecosystem crashes are generally unpredictable, and that ecosystems can rarely be made resistant to crashes (by definition), stakeholders will have to adapt to the consequences of ecosystem crashe if, when and where they occur.

The authors explore how a recent drought-induced tree die-off of piñon – juniper woodlands across the SW United States has altered the capacity of these woodlands to support human well-being. They relate scientific studies of drought impacts on the ecology of these woodlands and accounts in the media of how stakeholders are being impacted and are responding to these impacts.

The authors suggest that increasing stakeholder resilience to sudden losses of ecosystem services varies according to how strictly the particular ecosystem services are tied to particular location. They introduce the concept of “portability” to describe the degree to which an ecosystem service is tied to a particular location.

It is crucial to understand how dependency on certain types of ecosystem services may shape stakeholder flexibility in choice of location and in turn their adaptive capacity

As an example, piñon nuts are a portable service (with some limits) while the view from someone’s home is not – but this also depends on how flexible people are in terms of home location. Ecosystem service portability must be analyzed in conjunction with stakeholder or beneficiary’s mobility: i.e. how location-flexible rather than location-centric they are.

A famed Albuquerque candy makers says ‘‘I’ll never use anything but New Mexico piñon in my candy. I won’t go to the Chinese pine nut or the Nevada pine nut because it isn’t right. That would be like selling Native American jewelry that was made in Hong Kong”

The paper introduces two concepts – ecosystem service portability and stakeholder flexibility – that are interesting to consider in analyses of vulnerability to climate change in general, and of adaptation options to specific changes in ecosystem properties in particular. Stakeholder flexibility must of course be investigated in conjunction with ecosystem service substitutability: can a cactus replace your beloved piñon in your backyard?

Research priorities according to Rubicode

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

The RUBICODE project on “Rationalising biodiversity conservation in dynamic ecosystems” has published its latest and final newsletter.

Among other products, the project has prepared an interesting report on research priorities for ecosystem services (pdf here). The report lists 11 priorities, which are commented briefly below.

  • Quantify the role of biodiversity, including uncharismatic and speciose groups of organisms such as invertebrates, lower plants and fungi, in ecosystem function and service provision.

    This is a major goal of ecosystem service science when it comes to informing decision-makers concerning the management of biodiversity. It is somewhat overarching.

  • Develop trait-based approaches to ecosystem service assessment which include: (i) improved knowledge of trait-based multi-trophic linkages within ecosystems; (ii) trait based thresholds for the provision of services; and (iii) trait-based indicators to assess and define quantitatively service provision at multiple scales.

    Trait-based approaches, also labelled functional diversity approaches, are now well developped for linking biodiversity, ecosystem properties and ecosystem services, in particular for plant diversity. As well as being grounded in theory, they offer useful indicators that are often require less expertise than the identification of species and the estimation of their abundance. Expanding these approaches to address multi-trophic linkages, thresholds and multiple scale is the next step.

  • Develop improved methods for the integrated assessment of ecosystem services at different spatial and temporal scales, including methods for: (i) investigating interactions between the demand and supply of multiple ecosystem services; (ii) upscaling and downscaling; and (iii) integrating valuation processes and results in impact assessments and models.

    This point relates particularly well with policy and management issues. As the incorporation of ecosystem services into the decision-making process of land management marches forward such questions will most likely gain in practicality and lose their esoteric touch – which is probably a good thing.

  • Identify thresholds in the relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, ecosystem services and human well-being to identify points beyond which the level of ecosystem service delivery changes dramatically and perhaps irreversibly. Thresholds again…
  • Identify and quantify the impact of direct and indirect socio-economic and environmental drivers on ecosystem services, and develop tools to design and evaluate policy options for ecosystem service management under uncertain futures.

    As well as uncertainty in the future changes in direct and indirect drivers, ecosystem service science should also assist decision makers in incorporating uncertainty in the scientific knowledge itself. Given the limitations and contextuality of what we know of the dynamics of biodiversity and ecosystems, dealing with uncertainty should be central to the design and evaluation of policy options as well as concrete – on the ground – actions.

  • Improve understanding of the role of the cultural, economic and policy contexts in ecosystem service assessment, particularly in the choice of: (i) metrics, valuation and appraisal methods; (ii) stakeholder involvement; (iii) required levels of precision; and (iv) policy instruments and decision support tools.

    As well as understanding who and what determines the choice of metrics and who is called upon to value ecosystem services, the conceptual bases for these choices should be made explicit (and possibly challenged).

  • Develop an improved classification for ecosystem services and values, which includes values of flows of ecosystem services and stocks of ecosystem assets and allows for the distinction between final and intermediate services.

    Double accounting in the definition of ecosystem service is a recurrent problem, in particular among ecologists. The issue will be discussed in a later post. Meanwhile, you can read the excellent paper by Boyd & Banzhaf (2006).

  • Enhance the usefulness of value, price and cost estimates for ecosystem services by: (i) improving database coverage, quality, depth and access; (ii) filling key gaps in valuation evidence; (iii) investigating replication, validity and transfer of functional assumptions and values estimates; and (iv) developing agreed protocols for comparing and transferring value estimates.

    These priorities are central to the incorporation of ecosystem services in mainstream decision making concerning land-use and natural resource management.

  • Develop tools, methods and decision-support systems to assist the multi-level governance of ecosystem services. What does that mean?
  • Quantify the role of multifunctional land management and landscape patterns on the provision of ecosystem services and develop options to conserve biodiversity and maintain ecosystem integrity outside protected areas.

    The goal of making land management more biodiversity- and ecosystem service-friendly is a very notable trend in public policies for agriculture and forestry (at least in the developed world). Providing quantitative data on ecosystem service provision by alternative policy options is necessary for designing precise incentives schemes that actually serve the goal of ecosystem service provision (rather than the goal of satisfying a particular political base…). Such incentive schemes are an essential component of the policy mix for biodiversity and ecosystem service enhancement.

  • Develop tools and methods to promote the uptake of business opportunities associated with the sustainable management of ecosystem service delivery.

    The development of biodiversity and ecosystem service offsets in recent years is a step in this direction. Hopefully, ecosystem service scientists will embrace this trend and strengthen its scientific basis.

  • Did you notice how long the list is?