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

Abstract

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 provision, use 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.

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Acknowledgments

We thank D. Albert of The Nature Conservancy Alaska (Juneau) and S. Signell of the Adirondack Ecological Center (SUNY ESF) for their generous assistance with geospatial data and processing. E. Uloth, T. Hanley, A. Brackley, S. Paustian and several anonymous reviewers provided comments that greatly improved the manuscript. This research was supported by the Resilience and Adaptation Program (IGERT, NSF 0114423) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Communities and Forest Environments Team and Wood Utilization Center of the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Juneau and Sitka, AK.

Author contributions

Conceived of or designed study (CMB, TMP, FSC); Performed research (CMB, TMP); Analyzed data (CMB); Contributed new methods or models (CMB, TMP); Wrote the paper (CMB, TMP, FSC).

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Correspondence to Colin M. Beier.

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Beier, C.M., Patterson, T.M. & Chapin, F.S. Ecosystem Services and Emergent Vulnerability in Managed Ecosystems: A Geospatial Decision-Support Tool. Ecosystems 11, 923–938 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-008-9170-z

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Keywords

  • ecosystem services
  • social-ecological systems
  • anthropogenic change
  • resilience
  • vulnerability
  • adaptive management
  • southeast Alaska
  • even-aged forest management
  • subsistence