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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Tag Archive: ecosystem services

  1. Paying people to protect forests is worth it to reduce deforestation, carbon emissions

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    Posted: 20 Jul 2017 11:23 AM PDT  see full ScienceDaily article here

    A new study suggests that paying people to conserve their trees could be a highly cost-effective way to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions and should be a key part of the global strategy to fight climate change. The study sought to evaluate how effective ‘Payments for Ecosystems’ (PES) is at reducing deforestation.

    …the study applies the method of field experiments, or randomized controlled trials, to the question of how effective PES is. The study design helped the researchers accurately measure the averted deforestation caused by the program…

    The findings highlight the advantages of focusing on developing countries when working to reduce global carbon emissions. While the benefit of conserving a tree is the same regardless of the location, paying individuals to conserve forests in developing countries like Uganda is less expensive, making it cheaper to reduce overall emissions

    Seema Jayachandran, Joost de Laat, Eric F. Lambin, Charlotte Y. Stanton, Robin Audy, Nancy E. Thomas. Cash for carbon: A randomized trial of payments for ecosystem services to reduce deforestation. Science, 2017; 357 (6348): 267 DOI: 10.1126/science.aan0568

     

  2. Birds avoid crossing roads to prevent predation

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    Why didn’t the bird cross the road? Because it was afraid of predators and venturing into another bird’s territory

    Posted: 19 Jul 2017 07:05 AM PDT  see full ScienceDaily article here

    It was once believed that roads posed no problem to birds because of their ability to fly. A new study finds that they can find these human-made structures problematic, especially small, forest-dwelling species. Their hesitance to cross roads could restrict their positive effects on the natural environment, such as seed dispersal, pollination and insect control….

    …The authors of the study strongly advise that measures are put in place to connect fragments of forest across roads, allowing wildlife to move freely…”There are wildlife-friendly solutions to many of these issues, such as specially-designed overpasses, fauna underpasses and fencing so animals can avoid accessing the road, all of which need to be incorporated into the design of our road systems. Further studies should look at the impacts of man-made breaks in vegetation, such as forest tracks and park walkways on bird movements,” adds Professor Jones. “We are currently using our data to identify the ‘at risk’ bird species within suburban areas, to assist with conservation management.”

    Christopher D. Johnson, Daryl Evans, Darryl Jones. Birds and Roads: Reduced Transit for Smaller Species over Roads within an Urban Environment. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2017; 5 DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2017.00036

  3. How to Feed the World Without Killing the Planet?

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    • How can we balance demand for agricultural products with biodiversity protection?

    By July 7, 2017 The Nature Conservancy  read full blog article here

    ….Agriculture contributes one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, uses 70% of freshwater resources, and harms wildlife through conversion and fragmentation of biodiversity-rich habitats, water diversions, pesticide poisoning and creation of oceanic dead zones.1–3 And, as the human population grows and becomes more affluent, demand for food production is increasing, especially for luxury products that are more environmentally demanding.4 How can we balance demand for agricultural products with biodiversity protection?

    This question has prompted the land-sparing land-sharing debate.5–7 Land-sparing advocates argue that intensifying agriculture to produce higher yields is a necessary first condition to allow agriculture to contract to a smaller land footprint, providing opportunities for “sparing land for nature.”…The fallacy of the land-sparing land-sharing debate is its seductive simplicity.14….That logic is: ‘Biodiversity fares poorly in agriculture, therefore we must make agriculture as high-yielding as possible, to spare land for nature.’…

    The most immediate way to prevent further agricultural expansion into natural habitats is to have strong environmental policies and governance that prevents the expansion. Over the longer term, however, we can prevent further agricultural expansion by reducing consumption, and its companions, waste and inequity.32 Such solutions are not politically popular because they push back against the growth economy; yet there are three obvious places to start that could yield huge dividends for biodiversity and for current and future quality of life.

    • First, we could reduce meat consumption and the large land area that is devoted to producing it…Reducing meat consumption by those who eat too much, stabilizing it at current levels for those who are eating the right amount (about the size of a pack of cards per capita per day),33 and increasing access to meat for the 2 billion people who suffer from iron-deficient anemia,37 could help to solve several global disease crises at once. Finally, re-integrating livestock into smallholder farms could help to reduce nutrient overloads produced at contained animal feeding operations, reduce the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, and return critical nutrients to the soil and to the diets of small-holder or subsistence farmers.
    • Second, we could reduce the current wastage of 30 – 50% of the food that is produced annually….
    • Third, the growing human population also increases consumption — but we could stabilize human populations at lower levels than currently projected by meeting the unmet need for family planning.42,43 Many families wish to reduce the number of births, but do not have the means to do so. If these unmet needs for limiting reproduction could be met, human population could potentially stabilize at 6 – 7 billion people instead of the 9 – 13 billion people currently projected for 2100.44,45….

    FARMING FOR THE FUTURE

    ….Assuming that we could stabilize the existing agricultural land footprint primarily by reducing consumption (as described above) and creating strong environmental policies and governance that ensure nature protection, how should we farm in a manner most compatible with biodiversity conservation?

    …promote wildlife dispersal between protected areas to reduce long-term negative effects of isolation…by strategically restoring or protecting corridors of native vegetation surrounded by or interlocked with the most hospitable types of agricultural habitats, such as agroforestry,49 silvopastoral50 or other diversified agroecological systems,51 as has been proposed for the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.52

    …Use agroecological methods in the agricultural matrix that rely on the underlying biodiversity and ecosystem services,

    …Maintain productive, sustainable agriculture that supports livelihoods of local people living in the vicinities of protected areas. Agro-ecological methods, such as agroforestry, integrated pest management, and livestock integrationimpacts of agriculture on adjacent habitats and downstream regions….these agroecological methods increase resilience to drought, pests, diseases, floods, hurricanes and climate change,51,71–73 and help to preserve the sustainability of the system, by maintaining soil organic matter, water infiltration and holding-capacity, pest and disease control, pollination services, etc.41

    …Invest in agroecological and agronomic research and development to improve yields in diversified systems (with low reliance on external chemical inputs) in different cropping systems and regions.

    Conservationists should instead focus on other research questions and actions that will affect biodiversity conservation more directly….There is an urgent need to understand how different types of agriculture, as well as other matrix types,78 affect the dispersal capacities of wildlife. ..it is critical to determine which agricultural methods create the fewest negative spillover effects into adjacent natural habitats.

    Finally, incorporating socio-economic studies and participatory research can aid in focusing research questions on outcomes that can help inform pragmatic strategies appropriate to the conservation and agriculture needs of a given region.14,52 These types of studies, and others,14 would help to guide specific conservation actions to reconcile biodiversity conservation with agriculture….

  4. To what extent can ecosystem services motivate protecting biodiversity?

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    • New model marries ecology, economics to determine how to protect biodiversity by managing ecosystem services

    June 28, 2017 University of California – Santa Barbara see full ScienceDaily article here

    ….What financial value should be ascribed to, say, plants that improve water quality or wetlands that reduce flooding and property damage from storms? Many ecology and conservation organizations advocate for making such determinations in the interest of land management. Conservation biologists, meanwhile, argue that putting a price tag on nature could weaken the protection of threatened species that have a lower dollar value.

    Therein lies the core issue in the debate: To what degree will biodiversity be protected by managing for ecosystem services?

    To address this question, a team of UC Santa Barbara researchers has developed a new modeling framework that blends a novel mix of ecology and economics. Their findings appear in the journal Ecology Letters.

    ….The team’s framework generates simple criteria for determining how much the value of the service must exceed the costs of management to financially justify protecting all species. This defines the settings whereby protecting all species is the economically optimal choice. The group examined this criterion for six different services and ecosystems, ranging from the pollination of watermelon to carbon storage along coastlines or in tropical dry forests.

    In some cases, protecting all species in an ecosystem is financially motivated. In others, management solely for financial benefits may leave many species at risk.

    Our results define when managing for ecosystem services alone could leave significant biodiversity unprotected,” Dee explained. “The analysis also helps identify when additional policies such as endangered species regulation will be needed to avoid biodiversity losses.”

    Laura E. Dee, Michel De Lara, Christopher Costello, Steven D. Gaines. To what extent can ecosystem services motivate protecting biodiversity? Ecology Letters, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12790

    Abstract: Society increasingly focuses on managing nature for the services it provides people rather than for the existence of particular species. How much biodiversity protection would result from this modified focus? Although biodiversity contributes to ecosystem services, the details of which species are critical, and whether they will go functionally extinct in the future, are fraught with uncertainty. Explicitly considering this uncertainty, we develop an analytical framework to determine how much biodiversity protection would arise solely from optimising net value from an ecosystem service. Using stochastic dynamic programming, we find that protecting a threshold number of species is optimal, and uncertainty surrounding how biodiversity produces services makes it optimal to protect more species than are presumed critical optimal. We define conditions under which the economically optimal protection strategy is to protect all species, no species, and cases in between. We show how the optimal number of species to protect depends upon different relationships between species and services, including considering multiple services. Our analysis provides simple criteria to evaluate when managing for particular ecosystem services could warrant protecting all species, given uncertainty. Evaluating this criterion with empirical estimates from different ecosystems suggests that optimising some services will be more likely to protect most species than others.

  5. Human impacts on biodiversity and resulting loss of ecosystem services

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    May 31 2017  full ScienceDaily article here

    …coauthors from eight countries on four continents provide an overview of what we know and still need to learn about the impacts of habitat destruction, overhunting, the introduction of nonnative species, and other human activities on biodiversity.

    In addition, they summarize previous research on how biodiversity loss affects nature and the benefits nature provides –– for example, a recent study showing that reduced diversity in tree species in forests is linked to reduced wood production. Synthesizing findings of other studies, they estimate that the value humans derive from biodiversity is 10 times what every country in the world put together spends on conservation today — suggesting that additional investments in protecting species would not only reduce biodiversity loss but provide economic benefit, too.

    “Human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth, despite the fact that diversity of life enhances many benefits people reap from nature, such as wood from forests, livestock forage from grasslands, and fish from oceans and streams,” said Isbell, who served as lead author the paper. “It would be wise to invest much more in conserving biodiversity.”…

    Forest Isbell, Andrew Gonzalez, Michel Loreau, Jane Cowles, Sandra Díaz, Andy Hector, Georgina M. Mace, David A. Wardle, Mary I. O’Connor, J. Emmett Duffy, Lindsay A. Turnbull, Patrick L. Thompson, Anne Larigauderie. Linking the influence and dependence of people on biodiversity across scales. Nature, 2017; 546 (7656): 65 DOI: 10.1038/nature22899

    Abstract: Biodiversity enhances many of nature’s benefits to people, including the regulation of climate and the production of wood in forests, livestock forage in grasslands and fish in aquatic ecosystems. Yet people are now driving the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history. Human dependence and influence on biodiversity have mainly been studied separately and at contrasting scales of space and time, but new multiscale knowledge is beginning to link these relationships. Biodiversity loss substantially diminishes several ecosystem services by altering ecosystem functioning and stability, especially at the large temporal and spatial scales that are most relevant for policy and conservation.

  6. Measuring ecosystem services in Sonoma County

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    Using InVEST to assess ecosystem services on conserved properties in Sonoma County, CA

    Van Butsic et al California Agriculture 71(2):81-89. DOI: 10.3733/ca.2017a0008. Published online April 12, 2017
    ABSTRACT
    Purchases of private land for conservation are common in California and represent an alternative to regulatory land-use policies for constraining land use. The retention or enhancement of ecosystem services may be a benefit of land conservation, but that has been difficult to document.
    The InVEST toolset provides a practical, low-cost approach to quantifying ecosystem services. Using the toolset, we investigated the provision of ecosystem services in Sonoma County, California, and addressed three related questions.
    • First, do lands protected by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (a publicly funded land conservation program) have higher values for four ecosystem services — carbon storage, sediment retention, nutrient retention and water yield — than other properties?
    • Second, how do the correlations among these services differ across protected versus non-protected properties?
    • Third, what are the strengths and weaknesses of using the InVEST toolset to quantify ecosystem services at the county scale?
    We found that District lands have higher service values for carbon storage, sediment retention and water yield than adjacent properties and properties that have been developed to more intensive uses in the last 10 years. Correlations among the ecosystem services differed greatly across land-use categories, and these differences were driven by a combination of soil, slope and land use. While InVEST provided a low-cost, clearly documented way to evaluate ecosystem services at the county scale, there is no ready way to validate the results.

     

  7. Climate-Smart Land Trusts: Accelerating Nature-Based Solutions to Secure our Future

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    The California Council of Land Trusts hosted the 2017 California Land Conservation Conference from March 7-9, 2017 at UC Davis.

    Ellie Cohen, Point Blue President and CEO was a keynote speaker.  A pdf of Ellie’s presentation can be found here: Accelerating Nature-Based Solutions- Climate-Smart Land Trusts CCLT Keynote March 7 2017

    You can see a pdf of the full program here.

  8. Invasive, native marsh grasses may provide similar benefits to protected wetlands

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    Posted: 27 Feb 2017 12:03 PM PST Science Daily  full article here

    An invasive species of marsh grass that spreads, kudzu-like, throughout North American wetlands, may provide similar benefits to protected wetlands as native marsh grasses. According to new research, the invasive marsh grass’s effects on carbon storage, erosion prevention and plant diversity in protected wetlands are neutral….

    …Phragmites australis, known as the common reed, is an invasive marsh grass that can spread at rates up to 15 feet per year. It thrives throughout North American wetlands, and studies have demonstrated that its densely packed growth pattern chokes out native marsh plants, thereby reducing plant diversity and habitat used by some threatened and endangered birds.

    However, other studies have shown that Phragmites may help reduce shoreline erosion in marshlands and store carbon at faster rates than native grasses… The findings were encouraging. The team found no significant differences between ecosystem services of the marshes they studied, indicating that Phragmites‘ effect was largely neutral. However, Theuerkauf points out that the neutral effect could be due to the protected status of the wetlands they studied and the specific ecosystem services evaluated.

    “Studies that associate Phragmites with negative impacts on wetlands are often conducted in areas that have seen significant human interventions, such as shoreline development or construction of drainage canals, whereas our study was conducted in undisturbed marsh habitat within a protected reserve system,” Theuerkauf says….

    Seth J. Theuerkauf, Brandon J. Puckett, Kathrynlynn W. Theuerkauf, Ethan J. Theuerkauf, David B. Eggleston. Density-dependent role of an invasive marsh grass, Phragmites australis, on ecosystem service provision. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (2): e0173007 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173007

  9. New research to help preserve the benefits people receive from nature

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    February 9, 2017 University of Queensland Science Daily Full article here

    Humans rely on things that come from nature — including clean air, water, food, and timber. But how can we tell if these natural services that people rely on, are at risk of being lost, potentially permanently?…

    …”We have developed a framework to identify services that at risk of being undersupplied or even of being lost entirely. This allows time to either move towards more sustainable use, or to start planning for alternatives when we lose the ecosystem service.At its core, the framework is a method to analyse supply and demand, and the different things that affect them, like the condition of natural systems and whether demand by people is expected to change over time….

    Martine Maron et al. Towards a Threat Assessment Framework for Ecosystem Services. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, February 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2016.12.011

  10. ‘Nature-based solutions’ is the latest green jargon that means more than you might think

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    It may sound vague, but the term represents real and vital concepts.

    11 January 2017 Nature Editorial

    The latest attempt to brand green practices is better than it sounds….Nature-based solutions may sound artificial and unusable at first, but then so, probably, did the now-widespread, accepted and useful ‘sustainable development’ and even ‘biodiversity’ when they were first written and spoken aloud — and both terms emerged into policy debate more recently than you might expect.

    Still, if NBS seems poorly defined and vague, that is because it currently is — and this is where scientists come in. As specialists in conservation and sustainability point out in the journal Science of the Total Environment (C. Nesshöver et al. Sci. Tot. Environ. 579, 1215–1227; 2017), NBS will require the research community, its supporters and funders to answer a series of questions. The answers will entail identifying the specific problems for which a nature-based solution is needed, and monitoring the outcomes. Words, after all, can only take us so far.

    Nature 541, 133–134 (12 January 2017) doi:10.1038/541133b