Tag Archives: ecosystem services

On Wildlife Management

There are two global views about wildlife management that are echoed in conservation biology. The first view is that we manage wildlife for the sake of wildlife so that future generations have the ability to see what we see when we go out into the woods and fields. The second view is that we manage wildlife and indeed all of nature for humans to exploit. The second view was elegantly summarized many years ago by White (1967):

Our science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes toward man’s relation to nature which are almost universally held not only by Christians and neo-Christians but also by those who fondly regard themselves as post-Christians. Despite Copernicus, all the cosmos rotates around our little globe. Despite Darwin, we are not, in our hearts, part of the natural process. We are superior to nature, contemptuous of it, willing to use it for our slightest whim. The newly elected Governor of California, like myself a churchman but less troubled than I, spoke for the Christian tradition when he said (as is alleged), “when you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all.” (p.1206)

The first view of wildlife is now for ecologists the dominant conservation ethic of our time, the recognition that wildlife and nature in general has intrinsic value (Vucetich et al. 2015). Yet when there are conflicts in environmental management, the second view that humans trump all comes to the fore. Think of examples in your region. When caribou and moose are declining, the shout goes up to shoot the wolves. The golden example of this is perhaps Norway where wolves are nearly all gone and moose are superabundant and fed in winter so that there are plenty for hunters to shoot in the following year. Where domestic and feral cats threaten bird populations, the view typically expressed is that cats are our pets and quite cute, and certainly cannot be regulated or controlled as feral pests.

One of the main defenses of biodiversity conservation during the last 20 years has been the role of ecosystem services. The utilitarian view that ecosystems do things for humans that you can then calculate in dollars has been used to carry conservation forward for those who subscribe to the second global view of nature as something that exists only for our exploitation. Two recent reviews are critical of this approach. Silvertown (2015) argues that the ecosystem services paradigm has been oversold and suggests alternatives. An important critical overview of the conundrum of biodiversity research is presented very clearly in Vellend (2017) and is essential reading for all those interested in environmental management issues and the collision of science and human values expressed in our two global views of biodiversity conservation.

Wildlife managers must operate with the first view in mind to manage wildlife for wildlife but at the same time must act in ways determined by their political masters to adopt the second view of human values over wildlife. Ecologists walk a thin line in this dilemma. A good example is the book by Woinarski et al. (2007) which details the disastrous state of environmental management in northern Australia. There are courageous attempts to resolve these management problems and to bridge the two global views by bringing ecological knowledge into policy development and environmental management (e.g. Morton et al. 2009, Lindenmayer et al. 2015). Many others beginning with Aldo Leopold in North America and many others in Europe have made elegant pleas for the first global view of wildlife conservation. The attempts now to bridge this gap between exploitation and preservation are to bring social sciences into environmental research programs, and these efforts can be increasingly effective. But there is a large contingent of the public that support the second view that humans are the most important species on earth. The increasing collision of rising human populations, resource shortages, and climate change produce a perfect storm of events that place wildlife management and environmental sustainability in a difficult position. Everyone who is able must speak up for the first global view in order to achieve a sustainable society on earth and for wildlife and biodiversity in general to be protected for future generations.

Lindenmayer, D.B.,et al. 2015. Contemplating the future: Acting now on long-term monitoring to answer 2050’s questions. Austral Ecology 40(3): 213-224. doi: 10.1111/aec.12207.

Morton, S.R., et al. 2009. The big ecological questions inhibiting effective environmental management in Australia. Austral Ecology 34(1): 1-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2008.01938.x.

Silvertown, J. 2015. Have Ecosystem Services been oversold? Trends in Ecology & Evolution 30(11): 641-648. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2015.08.007.

Vellend, M. 2017. The biodiversity conservation paradox. American Scientist 105(2): 94-101.

Vucetich, J.A., Bruskotter, J.T., and Nelson, M.P. 2015. Evaluating whether nature’s intrinsic value is an axiom of or anathema to conservation. Conservation Biology 29(2): 321-332. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12464.

White, L., Jr. 1967. The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science 155(3767): 1203-1207.

Woinarski, J., Mackey, B., Nix, H., and Traill, B. 2007. The Nature of Northern Australia: Natural values, ecological processes and future prospects. Australian National University E Press, Canberra. (available at: http://press.anu.edu.au/publications/nature-northern-australia)

On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function

I begin with a quote from Seddon et al. (2016):

By 2012, the consensus view based on 20 years of research was that (i) experimental reduction in species richness, at any trophic level, negatively impacts both the magnitude and stability of ecosystem functioning [12,52], and (ii) the impact of biodiversity loss on ecosystem functioning is comparable in magnitude to other major drivers of global change [13,54].”

The references are to Cardinale et al. (2012), Naeem et al. (2012), Hooper et al. (2012), and Tilman et al. (2012).

The basic conclusion of the literature cited here is that with very extensive biodiversity loss, ecosystem function such as primary productivity will be reduced. I first of all wonder which set of ecologists would doubt this. Secondly, I would like to see these papers analysed for problems of data analysis and interpretation. A good project for a graduate class in experimental design and analysis. Many of the studies I suspect are so artificial in design as to be useless for telling us what will really happen as natural biodiversity is lost. At best perhaps we can view them as political ecology to try to convince politicians and the public to do something about the true drivers of the mess, climate change and overpopulation.

Too many of the graphs I see in published papers on biodiversity and ecosystem function look like this (from Maestre et al. (2012): data from 224 global dryland plots)

There is a trend in these data but zero predictability. And even if you feel that showing trends are good enough in ecology, the trend is very weak.

Many of these analyses utilize meta-analysis. I am a critic of the philosophy of meta-analysis and not alone in wondering how useful many of these are in guiding ecological research (Vetter et al. 2013, Koricheva, and Gurevitch 2014). Perhaps the strongest division in deciding the utility of these meta-analyses is whether one is interested in general trends across ecosystems or predictability which depends largely on understanding the mechanisms behind particular trends.

Another interesting aspect of many of these analyses lies in the preoccupation with stability as a critical ecosystem function maintained by species richness. In contrast to this belief, Jacquet et al. (2016) have argued that in empirical food webs there is no simple relationship between species richness and stability, contrary to conventional theory.

Finally, another quotation from Naeem et al. (2012) which raises a critical issue on which ecologists need to focus more:

“In much of experimental ecological research, nature is seen as the complex, species-rich reference against which treatment effects are measured. In contrast, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning experiments often simply compare replicate ecosystems that differ in biodiversity, without any replicate serving as a reference to nature. Consequently, it has often been difficult to evaluate the external validity of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning research, or how its findings map onto the “real” worlds of conservation and decision making. Put another way, what light can be shed on the stewardship of nature by microbial microcosms that have no analogs in nature, or by experimental grassland studies in which some plots have, by design, no grass species? “ (page 1403)

And for those of you who are animal ecologists, the vast bulk of these studies were done on plants with none of the vertebrate browsers and grazers present. Perhaps some problems here.

Whatever one’s view of these research paradigms, no questions will be answered if we lose too much biodiversity.

Cardinale, B.J., Duffy, J.E., Gonzalez, A., Hooper, D.U., Perrings, C., Venail, P., Narwani, A., Mace, G.M., Tilman, D., Wardle, D.A., Kinzig, A.P., Daily, G.C., Loreau, M., Grace, J.B., Larigauderie, A., Srivastava, D.S. & Naeem, S. (2012) Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature, 486, 59-67. doi: 10.1038/nature11148

Hooper, D.U., Adair, E.C., Cardinale, B.J., Byrnes, J.E.K., Hungate, B.A., Matulich, K.L., Gonzalez, A., Duffy, J.E., Gamfeldt, L. & O/’Connor, M.I. (2012) A global synthesis reveals biodiversity loss as a major driver of ecosystem change. Nature, 486, 105-108. doi: 10.1038/nature11118

Jacquet, C., Moritz, C., Morissette, L., Legagneux, P., Massol, F., Archambault, P. & Gravel, D. (2016) No complexity–stability relationship in empirical ecosystems. Nature Communications, 7, 12573. doi: 10.1038/ncomms12573

Koricheva, J. & Gurevitch, J. (2014) Uses and misuses of meta-analysis in plant ecology. Journal of Ecology, 102, 828-844. doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.12224

Maestre, F.T. et al. (2012) Plant species richness and ecosystem multifunctionality in global drylands. Science, 335, 214-218. doi: 10.1126/science.1215442

Naeem, S., Duffy, J.E. & Zavaleta, E. (2012) The functions of biological diversity in an Age of Extinction. Science, 336, 1401.

Seddon, N., Mace, G.M., Naeem, S., Tobias, J.A., Pigot, A.L., Cavanagh, R., Mouillot, D., Vause, J. & Walpole, M. (2016) Biodiversity in the Anthropocene: prospects and policy. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283, 20162094. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2094

Tilman, D., Reich, P.B. & Isbell, F. (2012) Biodiversity impacts ecosystem productivity as much as resources, disturbance, or herbivory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, 10394-10397. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1208240109

Vetter, D., Rücker, G. & Storch, I. (2013) Meta-analysis: A need for well-defined usage in ecology and conservation biology. Ecosphere, 4, art74. doi: 10.1890/ES13-00062.1

Does Forestry Make Money – Part 2

About 2 years ago I wrote a blog asking the simple question of whether the forest industry in British Columbia makes money or whether it is operational only because of subsidies and the failure to recognize that biodiversity and ecosystem services could be valuable. A recent report from the research group in the Fenner School of the Australian National University has put the spotlight on the mountain ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria to answer this question for one region of southern Australia. I summarize their findings from their report (Keith et al. 2016) that you can access from the web address given below.

The ANU research group chose the Central Highlands study area because it included areas with controversial land use activities. The study area of 7370 sq km contains a range of landscapes including human settlements, agricultural land, forests, and waterways, and is used for a variety of activities including timber production, agriculture, water supply and recreation. It is also home to a range of species, including the endemic and critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum. These activities and their use of ecosystems can be either complementary or conflicting. Managing the various activities within the region is therefore complex and requires evaluation of the trade-offs between different land uses and users, an issue common to forestry areas around the world.

The accounting structure (System of Environmental-Economic Accounting) which is used by the United Nations is described in more detail in the report. Both economic and ecological data are needed to produce ecosystem accounts and these sources of data must be integrated to gain an overall picture of the system. This integration of ecosystem services with traditional cash crops is the key to evaluating an area for all of its values to humans. In this particular area the provisioning of water to cities is a key economic benefit provided by this particular area. The following table from their report puts all these accounts together for the Central Highlands of Victoria:

Table 5. Economic information for industries within the study region in 2013-14
Agriculture Native Forestry Water supply Tourism
Area of land used (ha) 96,041a 324,380b 115,149c 737,072d
Sale of products ($m) 474 49 911 485
Industry valued added ($m) 257 9 233 260
Ecosystem services ($m) 121 15 101 42
Sale of products ($ ha-1) 4918 151 7911 659
Industry value added ($ ha-1) 2667 29 2023 353
Ecosystem services ($ ha-1) 1255 46 877 57

a area of agricultural land use
b area of native forest timber production
c area of water catchments
d total area of study region

The key point in this table is that the value-added per ha of forestry is $29 per ha per year. The equivalent value for water is $2033 per ha per year – or 70 times more, and the value added for agriculture is about 90 time more than that of forestry. The value-added value for tourism is $350 per ha per year, about 12 times more than that of forestry. None of this takes into account any potential government subsidies to these industries, and none involves directly the endangered species in the landscape. Three main points emerge from this analysis:

  1. In 2013-14, the most valuable industries in the region were tourism ($260 million), agriculture ($257 million), water supply ($233 million) and forestry ($9 million). This is as measured by the estimated industry value added (the contribution to GDP).
  2. In 2013-14, the most valuable ecosystem services in the region were food provisioning ($121 million), water provisioning ($101 million), cultural and recreation services ($42 million).
  3. At a carbon price of $12.25 per ton (the average price paid by the Commonwealth in 2015), the potential ecosystem service of carbon sequestration ($20 million) was more valuable than the service of timber provisioning ($15 million).

The main implications from the report for this large geographical area are three:

  • The benefits from tourism, agriculture, and water supply are large, while those from forestry are comparatively small. There is a potential for income from carbon sequestration.
  • The activities of tourism, agricultural and water supply industries are complimentary and may be combined with biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration.
  • Timber harvesting in native forests needs to better account for the occurrence of fires and can be incompatible with species requirements for conservation.

The recent global interest in both climate change and species conservation has pushed this type of analysis to uncover the complementary and conflicting activities of all major global industries. Replacing the conventional GDP of a country or a region with a measure that takes into account the changes in the natural capital including gains and losses is a necessary step for sustainability (Dasgupta 2015, Guerry et al. 2015). This report from Australia shows how this goal of replacing the current GDP calculation with a green GDP can be done in specific areas. Much of biodiversity conservation hinges on these developments.

Dasgupta, P. 2015. Disregarded capitals: what national accounting ignores. Accounting and Business Research 45(4): 447-464. doi: 10.1080/00014788.2015.1033851.

Guerry, A.D., et al. 2015. Natural capital and ecosystem services informing decisions: From promise to practice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112(24): 7348-7355. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1503751112.

Keith, H., Vardon, M., Stein, J., Stein, J., and Lindenmayer, D. 2016. Exzperimental Ecosystem Accounts for the Central Highlands of Victoria. Australian National University, Fenner School of Environment and Society. 22 pp. Available from:
http://fennerschool-associated.anu.edu.au/documents/CLE/VCH_Accounts_Summary_FINAL_for_pdf_distribution.pdf

Does Forestry in British Columbia Make Money?

While driving around British Columbia, one cannot help but notice the forestry industry – bare clear-cuts on the hills, logging trucks on the road. This simple observation leads me to this question: is the forest industry that now exists in BC profitable when one does a full-scale life-cycle analysis of its environmental impacts?

The answer to this question is obvious to most people – forestry is a good renewable-resource industry that provides many jobs and promotes economic growth. There is much literature from the government and the forest industry about how BC utilizes sustainable forestry. Most people accept this positive view of the forest industry. But I am concerned that we might find a different answer if we look behind the smoke screen of advertising and the government’s rosy view that all resource extraction industries are valuable for BC. Why might this be? I cannot analyse the economics of the forestry industry because I am not an economist, so in some sense all I would like to do here is ask some questions that others who are more qualified might help to answer.

The first question is what to include in such an analysis. If forestry is considered only trees, rather than the whole ecosystem with all its biodiversity, you would get one answer. If you worry about biodiversity you might get another answer (e.g. Drever 2000). If you worry about climate change and carbon dioxide dynamics, you can view forests as carbon stores that might be valuable if there is a price on carbon in the future. If you value the forests of BC as ecosystems that ought to be left as a legacy to our grandchildren, you might again take a different perspective. Do you include in your balance sheet the costs of fire-fighting and the government departments that manage the industry? What external costs are left out of a broad overview of forestry in BC?

At present it would appear to me that forest harvesting is not sustainable in BC, even if you take the narrow view that only trees matter in the calculations. If it were a sustainable industry, there would be no need to harvest old growth forests. But you could be certain that if any government actually said ‘no more cutting of old growth’, there would be an outcry. But if we continue as we are, we will cut our way to the North Pole, as long as we can find trees. The Yukon is next, if not now then for our grandchildren. But trees grow back again, so all will be well. Restoration ecology to the rescue. If you take a biodiversity perspective, you might find that what grows back is a pale imitation of what was there before. And if the ecosystem does restore, the time frame may be very long, looping back to the question of what sustainability means. If the forest ecosystem restores itself in 300 years, is that sustainable? How about 500 years?

If we treat forestry like any other agricultural enterprise, we might allocate some fraction of land to this activity and use the rest for recreation, tourism, and truly sustainable activities like berry picking. Suppose we planned that by 2020 forest companies could not cut anymore on crown land, and by that date land would be allocated to companies to purchase like any farmer would buy a farm. I can hear the howls of protest to such a suggestion. Is it correct that forestry then is really a mining industry operating on non-renewable resources – crown land that has old growth that belongs in theory to the people of BC in perpetuity? There are reports of how some forest companies are short-changing the government in their cutting practices because of the failure of inspection of the amount of wood taken off an area (e.g. see Parfitt, 2007) Short-changing the government is short-changing the people of the province and the people of the future who would live here.

But it seems to me that a much larger issue is that much of the planning for forestry in BC ignores the biodiversity issue. To be sure an iconic bird or plant might have some small areas saved for it, if it is included on the threatened species list. But as any ecologist might suggest, these protected areas are postage stamps that are in the long-term insufficient for the conservation of the species of concern. The major conservation issues of our day are those where economic growth produced by harvesting trees, natural gas, oil or coal collides directly with protecting our ecosystems for future generations. By any measure, the economic agenda wins the day, and the biodiversity agenda is peppered with good advertising telling us that all will be well.

It is fortunate that the First Nations of BC are rapidly awakening to these issues, and progress has been made in giving them more authority over their traditional lands. This is a bright side of the global issue of conservation in Canada.

The political issue that flows from this discussion is to ask how much subsidy our BC government provides to aid the exploitation of our natural resources, resources that ought to be managed for the future of the people of BC. Are we subsidizing environmental destruction with our tax dollars and all the while being told that even more economic growth is necessary? There must be another way, and for an ecologist concerned with biodiversity and the protection of the natural resources of our province, the current policies look like a Ponzi scheme.

Drever, R. 2000. A Cut Above: Ecological principles for sustainable forestry on BC’s coast. David Suzuki Foundation, Vancouver, B.C. ISBN 1-55054-689-9, Available at http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/reports/2000/a-cut-above-ecological-principles-for-sustainable-forestry-on-bcs-coast/

Parfitt, B. 2007. Over-cutting and Waste in B.C.’s Interior: A Call to Rethink B.C.’s Pine Beetle Logging Strategy. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Vancouver, BC. ISBN: 978-0-88627-533-4, available at www.policyalternatives.ca/BC f

Why I am Bored with Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services have become the flavour of the month and already it seems tired and bland.  “Biodiversity must be preserved for its ecosystem services” but making the tie between diversity and services has been elusive and will continue to be so. A body of literature has accumulated on the results of small-scale experiments in which plant diversity is manipulated and some service, let’s say productivity, is monitored. In some cases a relationship is found − more species more productivity; but not always. A rancher who wants to increase the productivity of her rangeland would be more inclined to plant to a monoculture of a highly productive grass. For example the introduced species, Crested Wheat Grass (Agropyron cristatum), was widely used in British Columbia in the early 20th century. Cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), another exotic species (if we are talking about North America) is expanding into rangeland and while it might increase the diversity, it reduces the productivity for forage.

Recently Mark Vellend (TREE 29(3): 138, March 2014) reviewed a book by Donald Maier, “What’s so Good about Biodiversity? A Call for Better Reasoning about Nature’s Value. “(Springer 2012). The take home message of this book is that the biodiversity−ecosystem services rationale for protecting biodiversity does not always hold and more species does not necessarily translate into more food or less disease.  It is time to get rid of platitudes and to confront our biases in a critical manner when it comes to biodiversity.

Further to this topic, in December 2013 the first meeting was held of the budding International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. It will focus on the following topics:

1) Task force on capacity building
2) Task force on indigenous and local knowledge systems
3) Task force on knowledge and data
4) Development of a guide to the production and integration of assessments from and across all levels
5) Assessment on pollination and pollinators associated with food production
6) Methodological assessment on scenario analysis and modeling of biodiversity and ecosystem services
7)  Methodological assessment on the conceptualization of values of biodiversity and nature’s benefits to people
8) Development of a catalogue of policy support tools and methodologies and providing guidance on how further development of such tools and methodologies could be promoted and catalyzed

Given the involvement of 115 countries it will be interesting to track the success of this panel.  Note that pollination and pollinators are identified as a specific ecosystem service. Critical experimental ecologists should be involved if this panel is to be productive in a meaningful way and, if not on the panel, they should track its progress and comment accordingly. Stay tuned for further updates.