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Ecosystem service trade-offs and synergies misunderstood without landscape history

Stephanie A. Tomscha, Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia
Sarah E. Gergel, Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia


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Dramatic changes in ecosystem services have motivated recent work characterizing their interactions, including identifying trade-offs and synergies. Although time is arguably implicit in these ideas of trade-offs and synergies (e.g., temporal dynamics or changes in ecosystem services), such interactions are routinely inferred based on the spatial relationships among ecosystem services alone (e.g., spatial concordance of ecosystem services indicates synergies, whereas incongruence signifies trade-offs). The limitations of this approach have not been fully explored. We quantified ecosystem service interactions using correlations among contemporary ecosystem services and compared these results to those derived by incorporating change in ecosystem services from an earlier decade. To document change over ~60 years in an urbanizing floodplain, we used aerial photography to map multiple floodplain-associated ecosystem services. Our results demonstrate how incorporating landscape baselines can influence measured synergies and trade-offs. Spatial correlations among contemporary ecosystem services missed several interactions that were detected when using prior baseline ecosystem services. Ignoring the history of ecosystem services and their change over time may result in missed opportunities to foster their synergies and lead to unnecessary trade-offs. Efforts to incorporate ecosystem services into land management should include long-term monitoring and baseline reconstructions of ecosystem services.

Key words

ecosystem service mapping; landscape baseline; river floodplain; synergy; trade-off

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087