Identifying spatial priorities for ecosystem service protection

Gary Luck, Kai Chan, Carissa Klein

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Priorities for protecting ecosystem services must be identified to ensure future human well-being. Approaches to broad-scale spatial prioritization of ecosystem services are becoming increasingly popular and are a vital precursor to identifying locations where further detailed analyses of the management of ecosystem services is required (e.g., examining trade-offs among management actions). Prioritization approaches often examine the spatial congruence between priorities for protecting ecosystem services and priorities for protecting biodiversity; therefore, the spatial prioritization method used is crucial because it will influence the alignment of service protection and conservation goals. While spatial prioritization of ecosystem services and prioritization for conservation share similarities, such as the need to document threats and costs, the former differs substantially from the latter owing to the requirement to measure the following components: supply of services; availability of human-derived alternatives to service provision; capacity to meet beneficiary demand; and site dependency in and scale of service delivery. We review studies that identify broad-scale spatial priorities for managing ecosystem services and demonstrate that researchers have used different approaches and included various measures for identifying priorities, and most studies do not consider all of the components listed above. We describe a conceptual framework for integrating each of these components into spatial prioritization of ecosystem services and illustrate our approach using a worked example for water provision. A fuller characterization of the biophysical and social context for ecosystem services that we call for should improve future prioritization and the identification of locations where ecosystem-service management is especially important or cost effective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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