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New Papers on Ecosystem Services in Complex Landscapes

Ecosystem services are the benefits the we all receive from nature, such clean water, cultural experiences, and food. But, research shows that how and whether we benefit from nature can depend strongly on the structure of landscapes. This is particularly important in the spatially complex landscapes in which most of us live and work, where the spatial arrangement of natural areas, which generate ecosystem services, relative to areas where people need ecosystem services is crucial.

In a series of recent papers (Boesing et al. 2020, Archibald et al. 2021, Metzger et al 2021a, Metzger et al. 2021b) we explore the importance of landscape structure for ecosystem services and their management. In particular, we contribute new knowledge and understanding on: the extent to which conservation covenants consider ecosystem services in complex landscapes (Archibald et al. 2021), the role of landscape structure in driving patterns through time (Boesing et al. 2020), the importance of landscape structure for the governance of ecosystem services (Metzger et al 2021a), and the need to better consider spatial processes in ecosystem service assessments (Metzger et al 2021b). These provide new insights into ways to manage ecosystem services in complex landscapes.


Archibald, C. L., M. C. Dade, L. J. Sonter, J. Bell-James, R. Boldy, B. Cano, R. S. Friedman, F. F. Siqueira, J. P. Metzger, J. A. Fitzsimons, and J. R. Rhodes. 2021. Do conservation covenants consider the delivery of ecosystem services? Environmental Science & Policy 115:99–107.

Privately protected areas promote the conservation of biodiversity and have also been shown to conserve valuable ecosystem services. Legally binding instruments like conservation covenants are important mechanisms to protect the natural environment on private land. However, the extent to which conservation covenants either explicitly require or allow for the delivery of ecosystem services, and the specific ways through which they achieve this, are largely unexplored. We undertook a content analysis of clauses in individual covenant documents, overarching legislative, and policy frameworks to examine this issue. We use a qualitative coding framework to assess how clauses consider the supply and the flow of ecosystem services to covenantors and society. We found that the requirements of conservation covenants did not widely consider the management ecosystem services. When covenant clauses focused on ecosystem services, they primarily considered the flow of ecosystem services between areas of supply to areas of demand. Clauses primarily considered these ecosystem services flows to the covenantor, with only a small number of clauses explicitly considering to ecosystem services flows to society more broadly. Finally, we found that regulating services, like erosion prevention, were often positively associated with conservation covenants, whereas cultural and provisioning services, like nature-based recreation, were often negatively associated with conservation covenants. Understanding how conservation covenants consider the delivery of ecosystem services is important if privately protected areas are to both conserve biodiversity and promote ecosystem services co-benefits.

Boesing, A. L., P. R. Prist, J. Barreto, C. Hohlenwerger, M. Maron, J. R. Rhodes, E. Romanini, L. R. Tambosi, M. Vidal, and J. P. Metzger. 2020. Ecosystem services at risk: integrating spatiotemporal dynamics of supply and demand to promote long-term provision. One Earth 3:704–713.

Ecosystem services (ESs)—the benefits provided to people by nature—are fundamental to human well-being. The sustainable provision of such services is constrained by both spatial and temporal dynamics of ES supply (S) and demand (D), but the temporal aspect is usually disregarded despite its high relevance in sustainability analyses. Here, we propose a conceptual framework integrating both spatial and temporal dynamics of S and D to forecast trends in ES provision. In this framework, we identify three temporal trends of ES threat: steady undersupply (S decreases through time, and D exceeds it), cyclical highly variable undersupply (S is cyclical through time, and D exceeds S periodically), and stochastic undersupply (unpredictable events might change either S or D). Once the type of S/D trend is identified, landscape management strategies can be designed accordingly to increase flow between S and D areas, reducing the risk of ES extirpation over time.

Metzger, J. P., P. Fidelman, C. Sattler, B. Schröter, M. Maron, F. Eigenbrod, M. Fortin, C. Hohlenwerger, and J. R. Rhodes. 2021a. Connecting governance interventions to ecosystem services provision: A social‐ecological network approach. People and Nature 3:266–280.

1. The fulfilment of the benefits resulting from services provided by nature requires an integrated framework that combines appropriate ecosystem service governance with spatially explicit models of service provision.

2. Here, we propose using a social-ecological network approach to develop a ‘landscape governance framework’ that identifies how different types of governance can act on supply, demand and flow of ecosystem services through changes in landscape structure and connections.

3. Starting from undesirable situations where demand exceeds supply, we exemplify the application of this conceptual model considering hierarchical (e.g. creation of protected areas), market (e.g. payments for environmental services) and community-based (e.g. enhancing links between stakeholders) governance approaches.

4. We show how interventions associated with each of these approaches act in distinct ways to regulate different components of the service provision chain in heterogeneous landscapes. Filling such knowledge gaps can help identify appropriate governance interventions depending on factors that limit provision: restricted supply, demand or flow.

5. The application of the landscape governance framework entails challenges related to availability of data and limited understanding of key underlying mechanisms. However, it opens important new research questions at the interface between governance and ecosystem services, with great potential as a tool for landscape management that aims to achieve ecosystem service sustainability.

The provision of ecosystem services is inherently spatial. Landscape structure affects service provision through multiple landscape-level processes, such as fragmentation, edge and connectivity effects. These processes can affect areas of ecosystem service supply and demand, and the flows linking those areas. Despite the emergence of sophisticated spatial ecosystem service assessments in the last two decades, we show through a literature review that landscape-level processes are still rarely considered in a comprehensive way. Even when they are considered, landscape effects are mostly limited to landscape composition, and configuration effects are underrepresented. Furthermore, most studies infer ecosystem service provision by only evaluating supply, ignoring demand and flows. Here we present a simple conceptual framework that illustrates how to incorporate landscape-level processes in the assessment of the different components of the service provision chain (supply, demand and flows). Using simulations, we evaluated how estimations of ecosystem service provision change when considering different landscape processes and discussed the implications of disregarding landscape effects. However, to fully implement the framework, a series of challenges linked to mapping and quantifying supply and demand, defining adequate scales of analysis, measuring flows, and parameterizing models for different types of services, still need to be overcome. To promote an adequate use and management of ecosystem services, it is essential to better incorporate landscape processes in ecosystem service assessments. This will lead to more quantitatively accurate and spatially precise estimates.

Photo credit: CCBY2.0, Edward Dalmulder

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