Ecosystem Services and Emergent Vulnerability in Managed Ecosystems: A Geospatial Decision-Support Tool

Peer Reviewed

Beier CM, Patterson TM, & Chapin III, FS

Ecosystems 11, Issue 6, pages 923-938, 2008, 10.1007/s10021-008-9170-z.

Managed ecosystems experience vulnerabilities when ecological resilience declines and key flows of ecosystem services become depleted or lost. Drivers of vulnerability often include local management actions in conjunction with other external, larger-scale factors. To translate these concepts to management applications, we developed a conceptual model of feedbacks linking the provision of ecosystem services, their use by society, and anthropogenic change. From this model we derived a method to integrate existing geodata at relevant scales and in locally meaningful ways to provide decision-support for adaptive management efforts. To demonstrate our approach, we conducted a case study assessment of southeast Alaska, where managers are concerned with sustaining fish and wildlife resources in areas where intensive logging disturbance has occurred. Individual datasets were measured as indicators of one of three criteria: ecological capacity to support fish/wildlife populations (provision); human acquisition of fish/wildlife resources (use); and intensity of logging and related land-use change (disturbance). Relationships among these processes were analyzed using two methods—a watershed approach and a high-resolution raster—to identify where provisionuse and disturbance were spatially coupled across the landscape. Our results identified very small focal areas of social-ecological coupling that, based on post-logging dynamics and other converging drivers of change, may indicate vulnerability resulting from depletion of ecosystem services. We envision our approach can be used to narrow down where adaptive management might be most beneficial, allowing practitioners with limited funds to prioritize efforts needed to address uncertainty and mitigate vulnerability in managed ecosystems.

Keywords: Ecosystem services, Social-ecological systems, Anthropogenic change, Resilience, Vulnerability, Adaptive management, Southeast Alaska, Even-aged forest management, Subsistence
Categories: Arctic, Natural Science, Social Science