Ecosystem Services Meets Systematic Conservation Planning

by Liz Law

This week saw the inaugural joint meeting of the Ecosystem Services Discussion Group and the Marxan Party to discuss software and tools for planning and prioritization of Ecosystem Services.

The Ecosystem Services framework has developed in recent years, encapsulating land stewardship to foster the many benefits that we derive from our ecosystems. These benefits are many and multifaceted, ranging from agricultural production and climate change mitigation, to regulating watersheds, and stimulating inspiration in diverse cultural settings. However, like biodiversity, planning for ecosystem services requires balancing the management requirements of a diverse range of sometimes opposing land uses, resulting in potentially complex, multi-criteria problems.

Ecosystem services, meet Systematic Conservation Planning.

Systematic Conservation Planning has grown from the need to solve multi-objective allocation problems in a repeatable, transparent way. Typically focused on multiple species or ecosystems, Systematic Conservation Planning has increasingly accounted for real world complexities such as direct and opportunity costs, equity of impact, physical and thematic connectivity between planning units, and contribution of multiple land use types.

We thought it was high time to review some of the tools and software both the Systematic Conservation Planning and Ecosystem Service fields had to offer for planning with Ecosystem Services. After a short introduction by Liz Law and Anna Renwick outlining some definitions, unique problems, and some of the range of tools available, we heard from Matt Watts about how the Marxan family of SCP software poses the planning problem. He also tempted us with a few snippets on future options and developments of Marxan, which may further increase the functionality and suitability of this software for ecosystem services research. Marxan with Zones in particular seems useful when analyzing the different contributions various land uses may have for multiple objectives.

Next up we reviewed the newly released Zonation v3. With our local expert (Rebecca Runting) poached by a NERP thinktank, Liz Law attempted to step in to explain how the many varied options in Zonation may help to plan when targets are not necessarily definable and connectivity through the landscape is important.

From there we moved onto tools and platforms that have been developed to map and evaluate ecosystem service provision. While not performing optimization analysis, these tools look to be interesting, almost off-the-shelf modeling platforms, which can facilitate planning when multiple scenarios of potential future land uses can be defined. Visiting from France, Audric Vigier kindly related his experiences of using InVEST, a deterministic modeling framework for multiple ecosystem services. Local ecosystem services expert Jessie Wells (in collaboration with Rebecca Runting) then outlined the unique probabilistic approach developed in ARIES, which focuses on modeling both service provision and delivery to beneficiaries.

These introductions should spark some keen discussions on ecosystem services planning in the future, so watch this space! A warm thanks to all the presenters and participants in the discussion. Slides from the presentations can be found using the links below.

1. Introduction to Ecosystem Services and Systematic Conservation Planning (Liz Law and Anna Renwick)

2. Marxan and extensions for Systematic Conservation Planning  (Matt Watts)

3. Zonation v3 for Systematic Conservation Planning (Rebecca Runting and Liz Law)

4. ARIES: Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services mapping  (Jessie Wells and Rebecca Runting)

5. InVEST: Integrated Valuation of Environmental Services and Trade-offs  (Audric Vigier)

For more information on the Ecosystem Services Discussion Group contact Anna Renwick, and for the Marxan Party chat to Liz Law.