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Identifying Ecosystem Services Using PPGIS


Ecosystem services (i.e., values provided by natural systems or simply "nature") are essential to human life on earth. They consist of provisioning services (e.g., food and water), regulating services (e.g., conditioning the air we breath), supporting services (e.g., wildlife habitat, photosynthesis), and cultural services (e.g., aesthetic appreciation and recreation opportunities). The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment project (2003) attempted to draw attention to the variety and importance of ecosystem services.

Many ecosystem services are 'invisible' processes and abstract concepts. Most ecosystem services are not easily traded in markets and therefore are undervalued, neglected, and utlimately destroyed or degraded. If ecosystem services are to be valued for what they are truly worth (sustaining the quality of human life on earth), they must first be identified and inventoried.

Can PPGIS help with this process of identification and inventory? Or is the concept of ecosystem services too challenging for members of the general public to understand and map?

An exploratory study was conducted in Grand County, Colorado to evaluate the use of an internet-based PPGIS to identify ecosystem services. Specific research objectives were to examine the distribution of ecosystem services, identify the characteristics of participants in the study, explore potential relationships between ecosystem services and land use and land cover (LULC) classifications, and to assess the methodological strengths and weakness of the PPGIS approach for identifying ecosystem services.

The key findings of the study included: 1) cultural ecosystem service opportunities were easiest to identify while supporting and regulatory services most challenging, 2) participants were highly educated, knowledgeable about nature and science, and have a strong connection to the outdoors, 3) some LULC classifications were logically and spatially associated with ecosystem services, and 4) despite limitations, the PPGIS method demonstrates potential for identifying ecosystem services to augment expert judgment and to inform public or environmental policy decisions regarding land use tradeoffs. You can view the journal article here.

A data viewer for displaying ecosystem service "hotspots" in Grand County from the study results is available here: Ecosystem Services Data Viewer. Click on the different ecosystem data layers to view them.

For more information about mapping ecosystem services using PPGIS, contact Greg Brown.