Reflections from the Tuesday parallel session on “Ecosystem services and resilience – Multi-level governance and biosphere stewardship”

Ecosystem goods and services can be generalized as the outputs of the environment that are either necessary for or benefit humans. Two of the most recognizable of these resources or processes include water and food.

Global warming is a phenomenon that is directly influencing modern life, and impacting the lives of future generations. In a session organized and moderated by Craig R. Allen, from the U.S. Geological Survey, Nebraska, and University of Nebraska, three speakers (Vanessa Masterson, Katharina Fryers Hellquist and Mitchell Pavao – Zuckerman) presented work as it relates to human use of and impacts on ecosystem services.

Masterson, based at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, opened the session with a presentation on the impacts of urban migration and ‘circular apartheid’ in South Africa. Urban migration is a term used to describe humans moving from rural areas or small towns to larger areas or towns. Circular migration includes both the movement into and from cities by urban migrants, typically as a recurring event coinciding with seasonal job or resource availability.

With urban and circular migration in mind, Masterson’s work explores the effects of migration on both the environment and the people (or community). People who leave their ‘home town’ and return on a seasonal basis may lose their connection to and, consequently their understanding of, their dependence on local ecosystem services and goods. Masterson suggests that “a break in the social contract can create a loss in the ecological literacy and wellbeing” within the community. It is this circular migration and others that may directly impact the availability and sustainability of natural resources and ecosystem services.

Fryers Hellquist, also from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, discussed the challenges and opportunities associated with the co-production of ecosystem services and goods. Co-production is a way of thinking about how ecosystem services arise. Humans can enable the generation and availability of some ecosystem services or goods. We can also destroy, or inhibit the growth of these products.

In her presentation on the co-production of aquatic ecosystem services, Fryers Hellquist stated that, although the concept is contradictory, in order for humans to enable experiences with nature we must build an infrastructure to access it. Building roads, homes, machinery to access ecosystem services and goods is common. For those living in urban areas: when is the last time you accessed near-pristine areas without a major reliance on some form of assisted transportation like a road or paved walkway?

Switching gears, the final speaker of the session, Pavao-Zuckerman from University of Maryland presented an obvious, yet under-implemented method for city planning and resource management. In the hot and dry area of Tuscon, Arizona water is of special concern to humans. Despite the irregularity of water availability (rain storms are few and far between but bring a surge of water into the city), a large portion of the water available to Tuscon residents is allocated to residential landscape management.

Pavao-Zuckerman suggests that, in the case of Tuscon, turning to ’green infrastructure’ may solve major water demand problems. Thoughtful design of how rainwater (or stormwater) flows within and through the city may alleviate a significant portion of the water demands of Tuscon residents.

The presentations here were ambitious. A question posed to Masterson, “who benefits from the results you are collecting?”, her answer may plague us all at some point:

“This is a question that keeps me up at night.”

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Jessica Burnett is a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebrsaka-Lincoln in Nebraska, U.S. Her research explores the use of statistical and modelling techniques for identifying rapid changes in wildlife communities across space and time. She is also interested in using existing data to identify areas and systems vulnerable to the effects of climate change and globalisation.


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