Study lead author Jaramar Villarreal-Rosas is a PhD candidate in UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. She said the benefits people receive from ecosystems, also known as ecosystem services, are under increasing threat worldwide due to the negative impacts of human activities.
“There’s been a substantial decrease in the quality and quantity of freshwater from wetland ecosystems in the Americas since European settlement, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services,” said Villarreal-Rosas. “The same data shows that, at the same time, pollination services – from insects and birds – are declining in Europe and Central Asia.”
According to Villarreal-Rosas, these are critical services that we tend to take for granted – the food we eat, the air we breathe, or the sense of relaxation after a walk in a park. “And to date, landscape planning decisions have largely been made without fully considering the multiple benefits people obtain from nature.”
The research team analyzed 326 published studies that applied systematic conservation planning for ecosystem services worldwide. The experts investigated the extent to which the papers correctly integrated the benefits people receive from ecosystems, and whether the research had accounted for multiple values and connections to land.
The analysis revealed that only two percent of the conservation plans considered all of the aspects of ecosystem services that benefit people and acknowledged different values of the land.
“This means we’re largely making planning decisions that may put ecosystem services at risk, and in turn, people’s livelihoods and lifestyles may be greatly affected,” said Villarreal-Rosas.
“Conservation plans are falling short of maximizing benefits for both people and nature. There is an urgent need to develop efficient and effective planning strategies to protect and restore ecosystem services for multiple stakeholders.”
Study senior author Professor Jonathan Rhodes said the research team did just that, outlining a formal process that governments and policy makers can use when putting together their conservation plans.
“Solutions must explicitly include benefits to different people in space, time and socioeconomic status,” said Professor Rhodes.”People have different values and connections to land and these should be acknowledged to ensure planning decisions have positive outcomes for multiple people.”
“Through the principles we’ve outlined in this study, we’re hoping to not only improve ecosystem services globally, but to increase efficiency, transparency and equity in decision making processes.”
“We see conservation planning shifting towards holistic approaches, where both the diversity of people and nature is valued, respected, and protected.
Professor Rhodes noted that making these changes is essential to achieve international policy agendas such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The study is published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.