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Operationalizing the telecoupling framework for migratory species using the spatial subsidies approach to examine ecosystem services provided by Mexican free-tailed bats

Laura López-Hoffman, School of Natural Resources and the Environment; Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
Jay Diffendorfer, United States Geological Survey, Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, Denver, CO, USA
Ruscena Wiederholt, Everglades Foundation, Palmetto Bay, FL
Kenneth J Bagstad, United States Geological Survey, Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, Denver, CO, USA
Wayne E. Thogmartin, United States Geological Survey, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, La Crosse, WI, USA
Gary McCracken, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA
Rodrigo L Medellin, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México
Amy Russell, Department of Biology, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, USA
Darius J Semmens, United States Geological Survey, Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, Denver, CO, USA


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Drivers of environmental change in one location can have profound effects on ecosystem services and human well-being in distant locations, often across international borders. The telecoupling provides a conceptual framework for describing these interactions—for example, locations can be defined as sending areas (sources of flows of ecosystem services, energy, or information) or receiving areas (recipients of flows). However, the ability to quantify feedbacks between ecosystem change in one area and societal benefits in other areas requires analytical approaches. We use spatial subsidies—an approach developed to measure the degree to which a migratory species’ ability to provide services in one location depends on habitat in another location—as an example of how telecoupling can be operationalized. Using the cotton pest control and ecotourism services of Mexican free-tailed bats as an example, we determined that of the 16 states in the United States and Mexico where the species resides, three states (Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado) are receiving areas, while the rest of the states are sending areas. In addition, the magnitude of spatial subsidy can be used as an indicator of the degree to which different locations are telecoupled to other locations. In this example, the Mexican free-tailed bat ecosystem services to cotton production and ecotourism in Texas and New Mexico are heavily dependent on winter habitat in four states in central and southern Mexico. In sum, spatial subsidies can be used to operationalize the telecoupling conceptual framework by identifying sending and receiving areas, and by indicating the degree to which locations are telecoupled to other locations.

Key words

ecosystem services; Mexican free-tailed bats; pest control; spatial subsidies; telecoupled natural–human systems; telecoupling; transborder conservation

Copyright © 2017 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