A new ecosystems service paper from Koch et al Non-linearity in ecosystem services: temporal and spatial variability in coastal protection has just come out in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
While the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found that nonlinearity in the provision of ecosystem services was likely to be an important factor complicating ecosystem management, there have been few quantitative examples of this nonlinearity in the literature. Consequently, scientists and managers often assume that ecosystem services are provided unvaryingly at a steady rate. This article provides quantitative evidence for seasonal and spatial nonlinearity in the provision of wave attenuation and coastal protection, an ecosystem service provided by marshes, mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs.
There is a great deal of interest in the literature right now in ecosystem services as a justification for conservation and as a tool for ecosystem management. Assumptions about linearity or nonlinearity of ecosystem service provision could have a huge impact on the success of this management. I found this paper interesting because it provides quantitative evidence for nonlinearity in space and time in the provision of key ecosystem services.
It all started with a discussion I had with Resilience Alliance member France Westley a couple of years ago about early warning and response challenges related to epidemic emergencies. Frances recommended I have a look at a lecture by Google’s Larry Brilliant. A great lecture, and it triggered some new thinking. Maybe there are smart ways to tap into the noise of the Internet, and find early warnings of pending ecological crises? This lead to a first meeting with colleagues at Stockholm University, where we tried to explore the issue. Some were very positive, others very skeptic. The first group moved on with the idea, which is just about to be published in an article Can Webcrawlers revolutionize ecological monitoring in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (doi:10.1890/070204). See also this press release from Stockholm Resilience Centre and an article in Wired.
So, here is the key message: Sure there is a lot of junk on the Web (just Google for ”Britney Spears” and ”war Darfur”, and compare the number of hits). And people are certainly using emerging social media and Web 2.0 applications – such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr – in ways that seem quite useless from a resilience perspective. But if you look at how the health community is exploring this topic, you are likely to end up much more optimistic. Information and communication technology (ICT) innovations such as GPHIN , Google Flu , and ProMed , has had a tremendous impact on the speed and amount of information that epidemic intelligence can tap into. And nowadays, around 60% of all early warnings of emerging epidemic emergencies that reach the WHO come from these ICT tools. Not bad compared to the failure of conventional epidemic monitoring systems that were based on official data from governments that preferred to keep things to themselves. And that always reported events only after they had escalated out of control.
I’m pretty sure there is a revolution in the pipeline for ecological monitoring if we are smart enough to tap into emerging ICT innovations. Feel free to agree, or disagree by posting your comments on our discussion site.
A current special issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment is dedicated to Ecosystem services. The Ecological Society of America, publisher of Frontiers, also has a podcast on the special feature. From the ESA press release:
“In this Special Issue of Frontiers, we have assembled pioneering examples of the quantification of ecosystem services and nascent steps toward turning that quantification into a framework for better land and water management,” Kareiva and Ruffo write.
The issue’s authors draw on current ecosystem services projects ranging from ranches in the Everglades to North American shorelines to cultural lands in Hawaii.
Novel programs such as the Florida Ranchlands Environmental Services Project (FRES) are designed to encourage the provisioning of ecosystem services from agricultural lands. These initiatives differ from traditional cost-sharing programs by paying landowners directly for the services their lands already provide, instead of giving incentives to adopt additional practices. In the Florida Everglades, agriculture has increased nutrient runoff into the Lake Okeechobee watershed since the 1940s, which has caused harmful algal blooms and ocean dead zones. State agencies are now developing a program to pay ranchers for ecosystem services produced by their lands, like water storage and filtration.
Another study shows that although wave attenuation, or the minimizing of ocean damage to shorelines by wetland habitats, provides quantifiable protection to coastal communities, this service can vary over time. Much like an economic market rises and falls with prosperous and hard times, these services vary over the winter and summer months, when shoreline plants are at different densities. The authors argue that most ecosystem services likely vary in a non-linear fashion, which will prove challenging for ecosystem modelers.
Placing a dollar amount on ecosystem services is not the only way to value them, however. In Hawaii, researchers say, ecosystem services evaluations should take into account cultural values, such as access to spiritual lands and areas available for gathering traditional plants used in ceremonies. The authors use a new software modeling program called InVEST (Integrated Evaluation of Ecosystem Services and Trade-offs) to help land managers and government workers assess this wide array of services.
The InVEST software has also shown that high levels of biodiversity often go hand-in-hand with the provision of more ecosystem services, suggesting that the preservation of biodiversity will enhance ecosystem services. This correlation is also reflected in the success of ecosystem service projects: The authors report that although conservation initiatives that focus on ecosystem services are still in their infancy, many are as successful as traditional biodiversity preservation approaches, and can often garner as much or more funding from the private sector.