, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 1175-1192
Date: 11 Sep 2012

Informing landscape planning and design for sustaining ecosystem services from existing spatial patterns and knowledge

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Over the last decade we have seen an increased emphasis in environmental management and policies aimed at maintaining and restoring multiple ecosystem services at landscape scales. This emphasis has resulted from the recognition that management of specific environmental targets and ecosystem services requires an understanding of landscape processes and the spatial scales that maintain those targets and services. Moreover, we have become increasingly aware of the influence of broad-scale drivers such as climate change on landscape processes and the ecosystem services they support. Studies and assessments on the relative success of environmental policies and landscape designs in maintaining landscape processes and ecosystem services is mostly lacking. This likely reflects the relatively high cost of maintaining a commitment to implement and maintain monitoring programs that document responses of landscape processes and ecosystem services to different landscape policies and designs. However, we argue that there is considerable variation in natural and human-caused landscape pattern at local to continental scales and that this variation may facilitate analyses of how environmental targets and ecosystem services have responded to such patterns. Moreover, wall-to-wall spatial data on land cover and land use at national scales may permit characterization and mapping of different landscape pattern gradients. We discuss four broad and interrelated focus areas that should enhance our understanding of how landscape pattern influences ecosystem services: (1) characterizing and mapping landscape pattern gradients; (2) quantifying relationships between landscape patterns and environmental targets and ecosystem services, (3) evaluating landscape patterns with regards to multiple ecosystem services, and (4) applying adaptive management concepts to improve the effectiveness of specific landscape designs in sustaining ecosystem services. We discuss opportunities as well as challenges in each of these four areas. We believe that this agenda could lead to spatially explicit solutions in managing a range of environmental targets and ecosystem services. Spatially explicit options are critical in managing and protecting landscapes, especially given that communities and organizations are often limited in their capacity to make changes at landscape scales. The issues and potential solutions discussed in this paper expand upon the call by Nassauer and Opdam (Landscape Ecol 23:633–644, 2008) to include design as a fundamental element in landscape ecology research by evaluating natural and human-caused (planned or designed) landscape patterns and their influence on ecosystem services. It also expands upon the idea of “learning by doing” to include “learning from what has already been done.”