While the ecosystem services framework offers the potential for developing approaches that simultaneously provide ecological stability and livelihood security, especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world, there are often tradeoffs associated with the pursuit of multiple objectives, by multiple stakeholders, across multiple temporal and spatial scales.
Choices are ubiquitous in natural resource management decisions, but recent approaches often mistakenly assume that a focus on ecosystem services will always provide opportunities for win-win outcomes. While some areas of habitat or landscape hold multiple values (e.g. hill forests, providing biodiversity, carbon, water, forest products and tourism revenues), they may be unable to simultaneously provide all these services.
Tradeoffs may be of two types:
- Between different services, e.g. the choice between species diversity and carbon in a mountain forest;
- Among different users of services, e.g. remote beneficiaries of biodiversity values, local users of forest land, and different downstream users of water.
While there may be some circumstances in which synergies emerge between particular objectives, most strategies for ecosystem management are associated with opportunity costs, and stakeholders within the system are differentially exposed to these costs. Market-mechanisms (such as Payments for Ecosystem Services, PES) may allow for novel strategies to exploit potential synergies, but these are unlikely to eliminate the reality of tradeoffs that characterise many decision contexts.
This project will bring together knowledge about the extent of spatial and temporal overlap between ecosystem service flows from particular landscapes, as well as the ways in which different stakeholders benefit from these flows over space and time. Such a project requires inputs from multiple disciplines, cutting across the ecological and social sciences. Understanding ecosystem function and documenting ecosystem flows remains an important challenge, especially given unresolved scientific issues in certain areas (for instance, the forest-hydrology relationship is still not well understood in different parts of the world). On the social side, it is important not just to determine economic values of ecosystem service flows, but also to see how these are captured by specific groups in society, and what this means for issues such as poverty, equity and justice.
This project was funded by the CCI Collaborative Fund for Conservation.