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.
I’m bored with ecosystem services as a term of art because it tries (again) to take human concepts from another filed of study and apply them to ecosystems. The application is ostensibly to help humans understand what we derive from ecosystems in our economic activities, and thus engage in better more conservative use of the resources in question. Sadly, humans are too fearful of their environment (generally), too ignorant of the real costs of human economic activities in many areas, sectors, and disciplines, and too willing to be led astray from common sense regulatory responses by charlatans who worry about human economic short-term profit then long term market share or survival (even survival of humans).
And frankly ecosystem services is another term subject to too much political manipulation.