, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 109-124
Date: 19 Oct 2010

Modelling dynamics of ecosystem services basket in Mediterranean landscapes: a tool for rational management

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Abstract

Natural ecosystems are life-supporting systems providing diverse ecosystem services (ESs) and benefits to human societies: e.g., food and clean water, recreation opportunities or climate regulation. The contribution of natural and semi-natural ecosystems to the provision of such services depends to a large extent on vegetation structure and composition, which, in turn, change as a result of interactions between human decisions about land management, and spontaneous biological and environmental processes. Rational management of these dynamic ecosystems requires an ability to predict short- and long-term effects of management decisions on the desired ESs. The vegetation then contributes to, and modifies, the products and services obtained from the land. We applied mathematical modeling to study these complex relationships. We developed a model for a Mediterranean ecosystem which predicts the dynamics of multiple services in response to management scenarios, mediated by vegetation changes. Six representative ESs representing different groups were selected, based on available scientific information, for a detailed study: (1) density of geophytes, (2) potential contribution to honey production, (3) energy density of fleshy fruits foraged by birds, (4) forage for goats, (5) forage for cattle, and (6) carbon retention in woody plants. Mean contributions to each service by different vegetation cover types were estimated, and the overall service provided by the site was calculated as a weighted mean of these contributions. Services were measured in their appropriate units and subsequently standardized to a percentage of the maximum value observed in the study area. We attempted to combine all studied ESs, despite their different nature, into one “ESs basket”. This paper presents the dynamics of simulated vegetation composition and values of services in response to management scenarios involving grazing, fire and their combinations. Our approach can help land managers to evaluate alternative management scenarios by presenting the “services basket” obtained from the entire managed area.

This paper is dedicated to the memory of Immanuel Noy-Meir, who instilled in his students and colleagues his love of nature, people and research.