Reflections from the session “Frontiers of Ecosystem services research/Modelling Ecosystem Services: Approaches and methods for understanding social-ecological system dynamics”

On Monday afternoon, I enter a packed room to listen to four short 3-minute ”speed” presentations about ecosystem service research and modelling. Ecosystem services are the benefits people receive from nature. The session chair, Matilda Valman from the Stockholm Resilience Center, kicked off the session and then the presentations were underway.

For the first speedtalk we travelled to the spicy region of Tabasco, Mexico where Cesar Jesus Vazquez-Navarrete from Colegio de Postgraduados, Mexico, introduced us to system interaction assessments, which looks at the interactions between society, natural and productive systems. Tabasco is characterized by two main industries, oil and agriculture. Vazquez-Navarrete and colleagues are interested in exploring how these interactions influence the region and to do this they developed a model that integrates three different approaches; the use of ecosystem services, food production systems, and wellbeing. This model was tested by governmental staff and key stakeholders and then implemented in the region. The model produces scenarios that allows decision-makers to explore possible outcomes and how they will affect the region.

Next we travelled to California with Yuki Henselek from University of Freiburg, Germany, to visit almond farmers. Henselek and her colleagues measured pollinators in California and how they affect the income of the farmers. Pollination is provided by honey bees and wild pollinators. The scientists were curious to see what kind of impact the wild pollinators have on the income of the farmers. The team found that the income range increased when there was a wider diversity of species pollinating the almond trees. Thus, benefits from nature increase along with an increase in biodiversity in almond orchards in California.

Marleen Schutter from Lancaster Environment Centre, UK, changed paths and led us to the world of interdisciplinary research, or lack thereof in ecosystem service research. Schutter has studied research about ecosystem services and the breadth of topics which fall under ecosystem services. Her research has identified 169 unique disciplines involved in studying ecosystem services and that medicine, literature, and cultural studies are the most recent additions to the long list of disciplines studying in ecosystem services. Schutter created an ecosystem service citation network to show where disciplines overlap and link to each other. She showed her cluster map and she said she was “quite pleased with it” with a smile on her face. Her results show that the more citations a discipline receives the larger the circle is. Her findings found that the majority of ecosystem service citations still lies in economics and ecology with arts and cultural studies still remaining on the outskirts with very few links to other disciplines. Schutter states that even “though ecosystem service research is interdisciplinary, integration is dominated by certain disciplines” like economics and ecology . However, she is positive to see that more disciplines have been studying ecosystem services but hopes that more links will be made between disciplines to make ecosystem service research truly interdisciplinary.

For the last leg of the journey through the ecosystem service frontier, Megan Meacham from the Stockholm Resilience Center asked us to unpack our bags and settle into the world of ecosystem service bundles. Ecosystem service bundles are used to understand the social and ecological aspect of nature’s benefits. Meacham says that there are four main benefits of ecosystem service bundles: 1) increasing cross-sectorial cooperation, 2) speed up ecosystem service assessment, 3) harness synergies and avoid tradeoffs, and 4) reduce management costs . She also mentioned that dealing with ecosystem service bundles is a bit of a “struggle” because there a lot of different definitions of what makes up a bundle. The working group that Meacham is a part of identified a chain of production, units of analysis, mechanism and drivers, and scale as important aspects of ecosystem service bundles.

The range of presentations shows that there is still much left to be explored and studied in ecosystem service research. Following the presentations, the presenters spread throughout the room to allow audience members to come up and ask questions and join in the discussion.

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Ida Gabrielsson is a communications officer for the Sustainable Poverty Alleviation from Coastal Ecosystem Services (SPACES) project led by Tim Daw and Kate Brown. She has a master’s degree in Environmental Science with a focus on environmental communication from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Ida has an interest in making environmental science accessible to a wider audience. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but is now happy to call Stockholm home.


Follow and join the discussions on social media: @ResilienceSTHLM  

Hashtags: #ResFrontiers #Res2017

Send your questions: #Res2017Q