Intermediate LEVEL CONTENTS
B.3) What is the mapping & assessment of Ecosystem Services?
- Understanding what mapping & assessment of Ecosystem Services is
- Introducing the concept of Ecosystem Services indicators
- Approaching different types of assessment
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What is the mapping & assessment of Ecosystem Services?
Researches, studies and analysis of ecosystem services are not sufficient if we want to use them for environmental management and territorial development: in these cases, we have to assess ecosystem services. Assessment describes the analysis and reviews the information derived from research, in order to help those holding responsible positions in recognizing problems and evaluating possible actions. Assessment means assembling, summarising, organising, interpreting and possibly reconciling pieces of existing knowledge and communicating them so that they are relevant and helpful to an intelligent but inexpert decision-maker.
On the other hand, ecosystem service mapping is the creation of a cartographic representation of ecosystem services in a geographic space and refers to a specific time. Mapping is a method of making the information derived from the assessment process visually accessible, especially to inexpert users. This visual representation can be made through indicators.
The Ecosystem Services indicators
An indicator is a quantitative measure that represents a complex system or phenomenon.
Since ES provide many types of benefits to humans, indicators using biophysical, economic and social valuation methods can all be employed for their measurement. Biophysical units are used to measure quantities or features directly connected with ecosystem structures, processes and functions. Some examples are the volume of water runoff from sub-catchment areas or the amount of nitrogen filtered by the ecosystem. On the other hand, indicators with economic and social units are mainly used to quantify benefits and values that humans obtain from ecosystems, such as the monetary value of a certain ecosystem for tourism or outdoor recreation.
These examples illustrate how indicators can simplify the evaluation of a complex system and enable its graphic or spatial representation. Through the calculation and analysis of ecosystem services indicators over time, we can understand trends in complex ecological processes and monitor sustainable development.
Different types of Ecosystem Services assessment
Within biophysical assessment ES indicators can be quantified via direct and indirect measurements as well as modelling approaches.
- Direct measurement of ES is performed by assessing physical units that correspond to the units of the indicator, e.g. measuring the amount of water abstracted from ground water layers (water provision).
- Indirect measurement uses data that need further interpretation, combination, modelling, assumptions or processing. Typical data sources are remote sensing data with their derived products like NDVI, surface temperature, land cover classifications, etc.. Subsequently, local climate regulation can be deduced from explicit patterns of surface temperature.
Socio-cultural valuation refers to the contribution of ecosystem services not only to monetary benefits but also to societal issues in terms of cultural, therapeutic, artistic, inspirational, recreational, educational, etc. values. There are different methods, and some examples are listed below:
- Preference assessment is performed through interviews, ranking exercises and scenario selection of ES impacting measures analysing knowledge and perception of individuals.
- Photo-elicitation surveys translate individual visual experiences valued by the taking of a photograph of e.g. a landscape into ES values.
- Participatory mapping also referred to as PGIS (participatory GIS) builds a knowledge system to which various stakeholders can contribute with their information about the location and quality of certain ES.
- Scenario planning combines various methods to illustrate the links between alternative futures, changes in ES and human wellbeing.
Ecosystem service science lies between the sciences of applied ecology, economy, sustainability and the social sciences. This combination makes it very complex and it is worth involving experts from these fields and with experience in transdisciplinary work. Experts can fill gaps in data. They generate quick results through their knowledge, with a minimum of resources and finances. Furthermore, the involvement of experts increases the credibility of results.
The engagement of experts happens on several levels. During the scoping phase, objectives for the mapping, maps and their application are set. With method selection and design, the technical aspects of the assessment are settled. The creation of reliable maps ensures the transparency, readability and interpretability of the maps to be produced. Application and implementation will be tested by experts in accordance with the set objectives.