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EM Scientific Insights – Issue 2

David R. Bowne

The Ecosystem Marketplace is happy to announce the second in an ongoing series of reports about the science of ecosystem services. Interested in hearing what the scientists have to say? Watch this space for our regular update on what you should know about the latest reported findings in journals around the world.

The Ecosystem Marketplace is happy to announce the second in an ongoing series of reports about the science of ecosystem services. Interested in hearing what the scientists have to say? Watch this space for our regular update on what you should know about the latest reported findings in journals around the world. In this second installment of Scientific Insights, we report on two environmental assessments of the beverage that keeps the modern world moving – coffee. We also discover: how forest management decisions affect carbon storage in the United States; how global change affects ecosystem services in Europe; and how scientists are highlighting the fact that, when it comes to ecosystem services, you can't always have your cake and eat it too. Before we get to all that, however, we drop in on the latest back and forth about whether or not it is a good idea to attach a dollar sign to nature's services.

Does Cashing in on Conservation Mean Selling Out on Nature?

What is the best strategy to protect nature? Is it better to urge the world to save "nature for nature's sake" or to highlight the many benefits that mankind derives from nature's services? These questions lie at the heart of a debate currently raging not just in the journal Nature but also in the hearts and minds of many conservationists. Douglas J. McCauley of Stanford University fired the opening salvo in the current exchange by arguing that moral appeals are the most effective and philosophically consistent strategy for the conservation of nature. He defends his position by stating that a focus on ecosystem services is fundamentally limited because it: implicitly assumes nature's services act for the benefit of mankind, depends on markets too vagary to ensure long-term conservation, discounts human ingenuity in devising substitutes for ecosystem services, and fails to recognize the common conflict between making money from nature and protecting it. McCauley concludes that ecosystem services can play a minor role in conservation efforts, but an overemphasis on them will result in having "sold out on nature." Very different views are espoused in the replies of the leading proponents of assessing ecosystem services. Walter V. Reid and colleagues argue that McCauley erred in believing that: arguments for ecosystem services are made only in monetary terms; conservation strategies using ecosystem services always employ markets; and the interest in ecosystem services is restricted to the conservation of biodiversity. Robert Costanza stresses that valuation of ecosystem services is not the same as making them tradable in private markets. He reminds us that since ecosystem services are public goods, privatization and conventional markets are rarely effective but having an estimate of the value of ecosystem services provides more ammunition for their effective management. Michelle Marvier, Joy Grant, and Peter Kareiva argue the flip-side of McCauley's moral imperative by declaring the moral necessity of saving people. They argue that areas of greatest biodiversity also house many of the poorest people; people that degrade nature out of immediate survival and who will suffer the most from the loss of ecosystem services. Marvier and co-authors see the valuation of ecosystem services as a means to align the morality of saving people and the nature on which they depend. McCauley replies to his critics with comments on the purpose of his initial commentary: to encourage the critical review of ecosystem services and to better articulate their proper place in the overall conservation strategy. He believes all participants in the current debate have contributed to these goals. McCauley, D.J. 2006. Selling out on nature. Nature 443:27-28. Reid, W.V., H.A. Mooney, D. Capistrano, S.R. Carpenter, K. Chopra, A. Cropper, P. Dasgupta, R. Hassan, R. Leemans, R.M. May, P. Pingali, C. Samper, R. Scholes, R. T. Watson, A.H. Zakri, and Z. Shidong. 2006. Nature: the many benefits of ecosystem services. Nature 443:749. Costanza, R. 2006. Nature: ecosystems without commodifying them. Nature 443:749. Marvier, M., J. Grant, and P. Kareiva. 2006. Nature: poorest may see it as their economic rival. Nature 443:749-750. McCauley, D.J. 2006. Nature: McCauley replies. Nature 443:750.

Trade-offs of Ecosystem Services

Many of us learned about trade-offs from the familiar proverb "You can't have your cake and eat it too." Jon Paul Rodrí­quez and a group of globally diverse colleagues explore the concept more deeply in an evaluation of interactions among ecosystem services. Their review of the available literature finds clear preferences for certain classes of ecosystem services. Provisioning services for food, fresh water, wood, and fuel are the most favored, perhaps because their value is most obvious. Services that regulate climate, flooding, disease, and water quality are the next preferred, while ecosystem services that foster cultural benefits (education, recreation, beauty, and spirituality) and the supporting services of nutrient cycling, soil formation, and primary production rank third and fourth, respectively. The authors suggest that this ranking of services is based on the short-term needs of humans to the detriment of long-term sustainability. The report suggests trade-offs between ecosystem services must be considered across time and space, and should weigh whether the trade-off is permanent. Rodrí­quez, J.P., T.D. Beard, Jr., E.M. Bennett, G.S. Cumming, S.J. Cork, J. Agard, A.P. Dobson, and G.D. Peterson. 2006. Trade-offs across space, time, and ecosystem services. Ecology and Society 11(1):28.

Coffee Bean Counting

Walk down any street in the industrialized world and one will find the "World's Best Cup" of coffee for sale. Coffee consumption is ubiquitous, but coffee production is restricted to biologically diverse tropical regions. Conservationists have touted shade-coffee practices as an effective means to grow coffee that is both economically viable and protective of biodiversity. And a strong positive link exists between local biodiversity and coffee production; coffee yields are higher in closer proximity to forested land because of greater pollination services provided by bees living in the forests. But is the value of pollination services great enough to prevent landowners from converting forests to another land use? Roland Olschewski and colleagues at the University of Goettingen and University of Victoria address this question in their economic valuation of coffee pollination in heavily forested areas in Indonesia and less forested areas in Ecuador. They found that converting forested land to maize fields is more valuable than pollination services in both countries. Other land uses such as rice fields and pasture are of approximately equal value to pollination services. They conclude that higher profits realized from certified "biodiversity-friendly" coffee may be the only viable incentive for landowners to maintain shade-coffee agroforestry practices instead of converting their land to another, less environmentally friendly use. The economic value of a coffee product is, of course, affected by the amount of processing it receives. Value-added products such as roasted or instant coffee fetch a higher price than raw green coffee, but does the market price adequately reflect the differing environmental costs of creating these products? Margarita Cuadra and Torbjorn Rydberg of Universidad Nacional Agraria and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, respectively, employ an unusual, but promising, technique called emergy analysis to address this question in Nicaragua. Emergy analysis uses energy instead of money as a common currency in evaluating resources and services. Actions or products requiring more energy incur a higher emergy cost than those requiring less energy. If, for example, coffee product A and B have equal market value but product A requires more intense processing, product A would have a higher emergy to dollar ratio and therefore bear a higher true cost. Cuadra and Rydberg find that the export of green coffee results in a net loss of emergy from Nicaragua – more emergy is exported than is brought in by the monetary exchange. The price of green coffee would have to be .7 to 3 times the current price to be advantageous to Nicaragua. The high emergy resulting from intense processing of roasted and instant coffee are, however, more than compensated by the higher price for these goods, providing a net benefit for Nicaragua. The authors contend that emergy analysis provides a more comprehensive technique in which to assess equity in trade than the methods more commonly performed. Olschewski, R., T. Tscharntke, P.C. Bení­tez, S. Schwarze, and A.-M. Klein. 2006. Economic evaluation of pollination services comparing coffee landscapes in Ecuador and Indonesia. Ecology and Society 11:7. Cuadra, M. and T. Rydberg. 2006. Emergy evaluation on the production, processing and export of coffee in Nicaragua. Ecological Modelling 196:421-433.

Forest Management and Carbon Storage

Forests play a major role in fighting global climate change. The reason is simple – forests store about half of all terrestrial carbon and can potentially store even more. The more carbon a forest stores, the less carbon dioxide resides in the atmosphere. And in the United States, private forests store the vast majority of carbon. This fact means that the collective management decisions of thousands of private landowners will affect the ecosystem service of carbon storage. Ralph J. Alig and Lucas S. Bair of the United States Forest Service model the importance of these decisions on the potential for carbon storage in the contiguous United States. Alig and Bair project the total amount of timber volume (an indicator of carbon storage) in the United States will increase for approximately 50 years but then decline if landowners behave as expected based on economic optimization models. These behaviors include changing the types of trees in the forests and harvesting timber at shorter time intervals. In the short term, changes in total carbon storage are dominated by management decisions (such as deforestation) about current timber inventories. At longer time scales of more than 20 to 30 years, carbon storage is enhanced by increased yields in regenerated stands. Forest investments that target increasing yields on regenerated forest stands would most positively impact carbon storage but these investments need to consider the growth rates of trees and amount of growing stock inventory. The potential for forests to provide long-term storage of carbon is great but will result from complex interactions between physical, ecological, social, and economic factors. Alig and Bair suggest that forest policies that promote management strategies having positive effects on a suite of ecosystem services would be most advantageous. Alig, R.J. and L.S. Bair. 2006. Forest environmental investments and implications for climate change mitigation. Journal of Environmental Quality 35:1389-1395.

How May Global Change Impact Ecosystem Services in Europe?

No serious consideration of the supply of ecosystem services in the future can ignore global changes. Changes will, for better or worse, impact ecosystem services. Predictions about these impacts at a regional scale tend to be of poor quality – until now. Dagmar Schrí¶ter of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and a team of 34 other scientists report on a vulnerability assessment of ecosystem services in Europe extending to the year 2080. Their assessment focuses on the consequences of four major factors (socioeconomic, greenhouse gas concentrations, climate, and land use) causing global change. In general, large changes in climate followed by land use most strongly affected ecosystem services. Water services will be strongly, but differentially impacted across Europe. Climate change is expected to decrease precipitation in southern Europe but increase it in northern Europe. The timing of water run-off will be altered, with an increase in winter run-off, decrease in summer run-off, and misalignment between peak flows and demands. The result will be an increased number of people living under water stress, especially in the Mediterranean region. Biodiversity will be reduced across Europe but will disproportionately affect mountain and Mediterranean species. Total forest area is expected to increase, especially in northern Europe. The expansion of forests would help maintain the service of the terrestrial biosphere in Europe as a net carbon sink despite increased carbon losses from soils. More expansive forests, however, may not lead to greater wood production because management decisions rather than climate or land use changes most strongly impact this provisioning service. Despite the preponderance of negative effects on ecosystem services discovered in their research, Schrí¶ter and colleagues comment on the positive development of stakeholders becoming more engaged in global change issues. Schrí¶ter, D., W. Cramer, R. Leemans, I.C. Prentice, M.B. Araíºjo, N.W. Arnell, A. Bondeau, H. Bugmann, T.R. Carter, C.A. Gracia, A.C. de la Vega-Leinert, M. Erhard, F. Ewert, M. Glendining, J. I. House, S. Kankaanpí¤í¤, R. J. T. Klein, S. Lavore, M. Lindner, M.J. Metzger, J. Meyer, T.D. Mitchell, I. Reginster, M. Rounsevell, S. Sabaté, S. Sitch, B. Smith, J. Smith, P. Smith, M.T. Sykes, K. Thonicke, W. Thuiller, G. Tuck, S. Zaehle, and B. Zierl. 2005. Ecosystem service supply and vulnerability to global change in Europe. Science 310:1333-1337. David R. Bowne, Ph.D. is a freelance writer and Research Associate of Ecology at Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, USA. He may be contacted at First published: October 31, 2006 Please see our Reprint Guidelines for details on republishing our articles.

Please see our Reprint Guidelines for details on republishing our articles.