By Fraser Hartley
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment highlighted the role of ecosystem services for human wellbeing, suggesting a positive relationship between ecosystem health and human wellbeing. Yet improvements in human wellbeing sometimes coincide with ecosystem degradation, while increase in ecosystem condition may not ubiquitously led to increase in the wellbeing of people dependent on the ecosystem. This points to a complex relationship between ecosystems and wellbeing. If we wish to influence and inform policy and society about the importance of ecosystems services, and how services need to be managed, a more coherent knowledge is needed about how changes affect the production, transfer and ability of people to access benefits.
The provision of services by an ecosystem can be broken down into a chain of elements, from ‘stocks’ (e.g. coral reef condition), to ‘flows’ (wave attenuation/aquarium species), to ‘goods’(shoreline protection/type of fish landed), to ‘value’ (how the market or society values the goods) and eventually to ‘wellbeing contribution’ (physical security/ income). The relationships between these elements are mediated by different ecological and social processes, which determine the sensitivity of human wellbeing to ecosystem change, a concept we have termed ‘ecosystem service elasticity’. ES elasticity can often differ depending on the context and individual circumstances of individuals. For example, if corals on a reef bleached, the shoreline protection chain is likely to be little impacted in the short-medium term (low stock-flow elasticity). However, since aquarium fish species are often dependent on live corals, fishers in the aquarium trade are likely to see significant decreases in ‘goods’ (high stock-flow elasticity). While the former example is likely to be broadly applicable to coastal communities, the latter will only be relevant to a small number of people or families within the community.
At ICCB 2015, my presentation will explain how the members of the Sustainable Poverty Alleviation from Social Ecosystem Services (SPACES) project are exploring the concept of ES elasticity through a large ecological and social dataset across multiple individual coastal services in East Africa. This process has illustrated a wide range of social and ecological factors as mechanisms that enhance or reduce ES elasticity. For example, high cultural significance, or lack of alternatives can enhance ES elasticity, while social mechanisms that limit access to ecosystem services can reduce elasticity. Mapping out how these individual services are interlinked can illustrate how different types of value and wellbeing are linked to each other and to common ecological stocks and access mechanisms,suggesting potential interventions aimed at poverty alleviation and sustainable ecosystems while identifying possible ecosystem service trade-offs and winners and losers.
The SPACES project is funded through the UK Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme. Learn more about SPACES work at http://www.espa-spaces.org. ESPA is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Fraser Hartley is an Associate Research Fellow in Geography at the University of Exeter.