Ecosystem Function and Ecosystem Services Models

Dynamic models of ecosystem processes and services translate what is known about biophysical functions of ecosystems and landscapes or water systems into information about the provision of goods and services that are important to society (Daily and Matson, 2008). Such models are critical in allowing particular land, freshwater, or ocean use decisions to be evaluated in terms of resulting values to decision makers and society; for evaluating the effects of specific policies on the provision of goods and services; or for assessing trade-offs and side benefits of particular choices of land or water use. For example, Nelson et al. (2009) used ecosystem models to determine the potential for policies aimed at increasing carbon sequestration to also aid in species conservation. Such analyses can yield maps and other methods for conveying complex information in ways that can effectively engage decision makers and allow them to compare alternative decisions and their impacts on the ecosystem services of interest to them (MEA, 2005; Tallis and Kareiva, 2006).

Ecosystem process models and other methods for assessing the effects of policies on ecosystem goods and services (MEA, 2005; Turner et al., 1998; Wilson and Howarth, 2002) also provide critical information about the impacts and trade-offs associated with both climate-related and other choices, including impacts that might not otherwise be considered by decision makers (Daily et al., 2009). If and when such information is available, various market-based schemes and "payments for ecosystem services" approaches have been developed to provide a mechanism for compensating resource managers for the ecosystem services provided to other individuals and communities. The design and evaluation of such mechanisms requires collaboration across disciplines (including, for example, ecology and economics) and improvements in the ability to link incentives with trade-offs and synergies among multiple services (Jack et al., 2008). Valuation of goods and services that typically fall outside the realm of economic analysis remains a significant research challenge, although a number of approaches have been developed and applied (Farber et al., 2002).

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