Nature as Capital — PNAS 100th Anniversary Special Feature on Ecosystem Services (Free Online)

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2015, v112 n24)
Full table of contents:

Core Concept: Ecosystem services / by Amy West
If one were to build a healthy biosphere from scratch on another planet, what kinds of ecosystems and combinations of species would be necessary to support humans? This is the thought experiment that ecologist Gretchen Daily, a Bing professor at Stanford University, poses to illustrate the crucial role that the natural environment plays in supporting human society…

Natural capital and ecosystem services informing decisions: From promise to practice / by Anne D. Guerry, et al. (7348-7355, doi:10.1073/pnas.1503751112)
The central challenge of the 21st century is to develop economic, social, and governance systems capable of ending poverty and achieving sustainable levels of population and consumption while securing the life-support systems underpinning current and future human well-being. Essential to meeting this challenge is the incorporation of natural capital and the ecosystem services it provides into decision-making. We explore progress and crucial gaps at this frontier, reflecting upon the 10 y since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. We focus on three key dimensions of progress and ongoing challenges: raising awareness of the interdependence of ecosystems and human well-being, advancing the fundamental interdisciplinary science of ecosystem services, and implementing this science in decisions to restore natural capital and use it sustainably…

Impacts of conservation and human development policy across stakeholders and scales / by Cong Li, et al. (7396–7401, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1406486112)
Ideally, both ecosystem service and human development policies should improve human well-being through the conservation of ecosystems that provide valuable services. However, program costs and benefits to multiple stakeholders, and how they change through time, are rarely carefully analyzed. We examine one of China’s new ecosystem service protection and human development policies: the Relocation and Settlement Program of Southern Shaanxi Province (RSP), which pays households who opt voluntarily to resettle from mountainous areas.. .

Setting the bar: Standards for ecosystem services / by Stephen Polasky, et al. (7356–7361, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1406490112)
Progress in ecosystem service science has been rapid, and there is now a healthy appetite among key public and private sector decision makers for this science. However, changing policy and management is a long-term project, one that raises a number of specific practical challenges. One impediment to broad adoption of ecosystem service information is the lack of standards that define terminology, acceptable data and methods, and reporting requirements…

Embedding ecosystem services in coastal planning leads to better outcomes for people and nature / by Katie K. Arkema (7390–7395, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1406483112)
Recent calls for ocean planning envision informed management of social and ecological systems to sustain delivery of ecosystem services to people. However, until now, no coastal and marine planning process has applied an ecosystem-services framework to understand how human activities affect the flow of benefits, to create scenarios, and to design a management plan. We developed models that quantify services provided by corals, mangroves, and seagrasses…

Estimating the impacts of conservation on ecosystem services and poverty by integrating modeling and evaluation / by Paul J. Ferraro (7420–7425, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1406487112)
Scholars have made great advances in modeling and mapping ecosystem services, and in assigning economic values to these services. This modeling and valuation scholarship is often disconnected from evidence about how actual conservation programs have affected ecosystem services, however. Without a stronger evidence base, decision makers find it difficult to use the insights from modeling and valuation to design effective policies and programs. To strengthen the evidence base, scholars have advanced our understanding of the causal pathways between conservation actions and environmental outcomes, but their studies measure impacts on imperfect proxies for ecosystem services (e.g., avoidance of deforestation). To be useful to decision makers, these impacts must be translated into changes in ecosystem services and values…

Nature as capital: Advancing and incorporating ecosystem services in United States federal policies and programs / by Mark Schaefer, et al. (7383–7389, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1420500112)
The concept of nature as capital is gaining visibility in policies and practices in both the public and private sectors. This change is due to an improved ability to assess and value ecosystem services, as well as to a growing recognition of the potential of an ecosystem services approach to make tradeoffs in decision making more transparent, inform efficient use of resources, enhance resilience and sustainability, and avoid unintended negative consequences of policy actions. Globally, governments, financial institutions, and corporations have begun to incorporate natural capital accounting in their policies and practices. In the United States, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and federal agencies are actively collaborating to develop and apply ecosystem services concepts to further national environmental and economic objectives…

Navigating complexity through knowledge coproduction: Mainstreaming ecosystem services into disaster risk reduction / by Belinda Reyers, et al. (7362–7368, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1414374112)
Achieving the policy and practice shifts needed to secure ecosystem services is hampered by the inherent complexities of ecosystem services and their management. Methods for the participatory production and exchange of knowledge offer an avenue to navigate this complexity together with the beneficiaries and managers of ecosystem services. We develop and apply a knowledge coproduction approach based on social–ecological systems research and assess its utility in generating shared knowledge and action for ecosystem services. The approach was piloted in South Africa across four case studies aimed at reducing the risk of disasters associated with floods, wildfires, storm waves, and droughts…

Adaptive governance, ecosystem management, and natural capital / by Lisen Schultz, et al. (7369–7374, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1406493112)
To gain insights into the effects of adaptive governance on natural capital, we compare three well-studied initiatives; a landscape in Southern Sweden, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and fisheries in the Southern Ocean. We assess changes in natural capital and ecosystem services related to these social–ecological governance approaches to ecosystem management and investigate their capacity to respond to change and new challenges. The adaptive governance initiatives are compared with other efforts aimed at conservation and sustainable use of natural capital: Natura 2000 in Europe, lobster fisheries in the Gulf of Maine, North America, and fisheries in Europe…

Conserving tropical biodiversity via market forces and spatial targeting / by Ian J. Bateman, et al. (7408–7413, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1406484112)
Protected public lands are insufficient to halt the loss of global biodiversity. However, most commercial landowners need incentives to engage in conservation. Through an interdisciplinary study examining palm-oil plantations in Sumatra, we demonstrate that (i) joint consideration of both biodiversity and economic relationships permits the spatial targeting of areas that enhance conservation of International Union for Conservation of Nature Red Listed species at relatively low cost to the landowner and (ii) the potential exists for funding such private costs of conservation through a price premium on a conservation-certified good. Such an approach avoids the need to assume intervention from an international social planner, while establishing the potential for profitable conservation on private lands, providing an important additional route for sustaining endangered species.

Improving global environmental management with standard corporate reporting / by Peter M. Kareiva, et al. (7375–7382, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1408120111)
Multinational corporations play a prominent role in shaping the environmental trajectory of the planet. The integration of environmental costs and benefits into corporate decision-making has enormous, but as yet unfulfilled, potential to promote sustainable development. To help steer business decisions toward better environmental outcomes, corporate reporting frameworks need to develop scientifically informed standards that consistently consider land use and land conversion, clean air (including greenhouse gas emissions), availability and quality of freshwater, degradation of coastal and marine habitats, and sustainable use of renewable resources such as soil, timber, and fisheries…

Spatial patterns of agricultural expansion determine impacts on biodiversity and carbon storage / by Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, et al. (7402–7407, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1406485112)
Deforestation is a major threat to biodiversity and many ecosystem services and is closely linked to agricultural expansion. Sustainability assessment of different agricultural products and policies requires an understanding of the impacts of land conversion resulting from shifts in demand or incentives for production. The prevailing approaches to estimating such impacts do not account for the spatial context of the transformation. This study shows how different patterns of agricultural expansion into forested landscapes can vastly reduce or exacerbate the total impact, suggesting that methods to measure sustainability should consider not only the total area but also where and how the landscape is converted.

Public health impacts of ecosystem change in the Brazilian Amazon / by Simone C. Bauch, et al. (7420-7425, doi:10.1073/pnas.1406487112)
The claim that nature delivers health benefits rests on a thin empirical evidence base. Even less evidence exists on how specific conservation policies affect multiple health outcomes. We address these gaps in knowledge by combining municipal-level panel data on diseases, public health services, climatic factors, demographics, conservation policies, and other drivers of land-use change in the Brazilian Amazon…


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