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Sutherland, W. J., T. Gardner, T. L. Bogich, R. B. Bradbury, B. Clothier, M. Jonsson, V. Kapos, S. N. Lane, I. Möller, M. Schroeder, M. Spalding, T. Spencer, P. C. L. White, and L. V. Dicks. 2014. Solution scanning as a key policy tool: identifying management interventions to help maintain and enhance regulating ecosystem services. Ecology and Society 19(2): 3.
Solution scanning as a key policy tool: identifying management interventions to help maintain and enhance regulating ecosystem services
1Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, 2Princeton University, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, 3Conservation Science Department, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, 4New Zealand Plant & Food Research, Climate Lab, 5Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 6United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 7Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Science Laboratories, 8Cambridge Coastal Research Unit, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, 9The Nature Conservancy and Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, 10Environment Department, University of York
The major task of policy makers and practitioners when confronted with a resource management problem is to decide on the potential solution(s) to adopt from a range of available options. However, this process is unlikely to be successful and cost effective without access to an independently verified and comprehensive available list of options. There is currently burgeoning interest in ecosystem services and quantitative assessments of their importance and value. Recognition of the value of ecosystem services to human well-being represents an increasingly important argument for protecting and restoring the natural environment, alongside the moral and ethical justifications for conservation. As well as understanding the benefits of ecosystem services, it is also important to synthesize the practical interventions that are capable of maintaining and/or enhancing these services. Apart from pest regulation, pollination, and global climate regulation, this type of exercise has attracted relatively little attention. Through a systematic consultation exercise, we identify a candidate list of 296 possible interventions across the main regulating services of air quality regulation, climate regulation, water flow regulation, erosion regulation, water purification and waste treatment, disease regulation, pest regulation, pollination and natural hazard regulation. The range of interventions differs greatly between habitats and services depending upon the ease of manipulation and the level of research intensity. Some interventions have the potential to deliver benefits across a range of regulating services, especially those that reduce soil loss and maintain forest cover.
Synthesis and applications: Solution scanning is important for questioning existing knowledge and identifying the range of options available to researchers and practitioners, as well as serving as the necessary basis for assessing cost effectiveness and guiding implementation strategies. We recommend that it become a routine part of decision making in all environmental policy areas.
Key words: Climate regulation; policy making; pollination; regulating services; solution scanning; water regulation
The first stage in policy development is to identify a problem or a need for new policy. This can be done through horizon scanning to identify novel issues (Sutherland et al. 2013) or threats relating to a particular issue (Sutherland et al. 2012) or by identifying opportunities for policy development (Sutherland et al. 2010). Once a need for new policy is identified and the problem to be dealt with has been framed, then policy makers, whether working on education, road safety, social mobility, illegal drugs, or wildlife conservation, are invariably faced with a large range of possible policy options. Policies typically arise from some amalgamation of the ideas and beliefs of politicians, the experience of those responsible for creating or delivering policy, and external bodies seeking to have their agenda adopted (Jasanoff 1994). Science is then often used to help bolster or reject established positions rather than as an objective means of assessing the available evidence (Sarewitz 2000, Lawton 2007).
An alternative and more rigorous strategy, which we term here “solution scanning,” is to list all the known possibilities for addressing a particular problem, or set of problems, before considering the evidence for and practicalities of recommending their adoption in a particular context (Fig. 1). A strategic and comprehensive identification of possible solutions has the advantage that it encourages consideration of a wide range of possibilities before focusing on only one, or a subset. It also makes explicit which options have been discarded in subsequent steps—a key aspect of a truly transparent decision-making process. Although it would be ideal to have access to a comprehensive review of the evidence base for all available policy options, merely identifying the full set of options that are available can be an invaluable, and considerably cheaper and quicker, first step. This is especially the case for complex and multifaceted policy problems, where multiple problems are being addressed, where the range of interventions that could influence desired outcomes is considerable, and where the desired outcomes may be location or context specific.
Over recent years, a huge policy and research interest has developed around the subjects of natural capital and ecosystem services (Seppelt et al. 2011). Much of the research effort so far in developing the “ecosystem service approach” has focused on techniques for monitoring and assessment (Seppelt et al. 2012), ways of quantifying service production and use for economic valuation purposes (Daily et al. 2000, Fisher and Turner 2008, Fisher et al. 2009, Dominati et al. 2010, Raudsepp-Hearne et al. 2010, Robinson and Lebron 2010, Kareiva et al. 2011, Bateman et al. 2013), identifying status and trends (Hassan et al. 2005, UK National Ecosystem Assessment 2011), or considering impacts and trade-offs between services (Chan et al. 2006, Zhang et al. 2007, Barton et al. 2009, Bennett et al. 2009, Nelson et al. 2009, Chisholm 2010). The importance of biodiversity and functional diversity in underpinning ecosystem function and service provision has also been highlighted (e.g., Beaumont et al. 2007, Loreau 2010, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) 2010). Ecosystem services have become a major component of the justification for the conservation of nature. Maintaining, enhancing, and restoring ecosystem services, through improving ecological coherence and connectedness, have become a high-level policy goal (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 2011, European Commission 2011, World Bank 2012). However, there has been much less research emphasis on identifying the most effective means by which this can be achieved.
Research has greatly increased our understanding of the importance of ecosystem services. For this to make a difference to the state of the environment, it needs to influence decision making and alter the ways people use and manage ecosystems. In particular, it is imperative to understand how different ways of managing any given aspect of the environment may influence net changes in the provision of multiple, but potentially competing and/or synergistic services (e.g., Pilgrim et al. 2010, Posthumus et al. 2010), including within multifunctional landscapes (Reyers et al. 2012). A first and very practical step toward developing such an understanding is to generate a simple list of potential “solutions”, or interventions (Jacquet et al. 2011) that could deliver favorable outcomes for ecosystem service conservation. Such a listing or scanning exercise has value if undertaken in a systematic and rigorous way.
Figure 1 illustrates how the solution scan proposed here sits within a wider decision-making process. We identify five stages of the decision process and identify the prioritization filters that could be imposed at each stage to narrow down options for a specific context and scale. The first two stages are concerned with identifying and framing problems and are encompassed by what is traditionally termed horizon scanning, as described above. The next stage is the solution scan presented here. Following the solution scan is the process of reviewing evidence, in which effectiveness, costs, synergies, and trade-offs should be taken into account. Selected actions are then implemented and can be monitored.
In this paper, we aim to provide a comprehensive list of possible interventions and investments that can enhance ecological infrastructural capacity and positively influence the conservation of the range of regulating ecosystem services identified by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Hassan et al. 2005). We limit our focus to regulating services: air quality regulation, climate regulation, water regulation, erosion regulation, water purification, water and waste treatment, disease regulation, pest regulation, and pollination and natural hazard regulation. Regulating services provide capacity for the ecosystem to adapt to short-term disturbances and longer-term change, and therefore play a fundamental role in protecting human livelihoods and well-being (Carpenter et al. 2006). They are particularly important for cross-sectoral policy development, as their degradation can lead to increased exposure of the human population to physical hazards, such as land erosion, flooding, or crop yield loss, for which expensive human-engineered solutions may provide the only alternative mitigation. Indeed, some regulating services are not substitutable by current technology. Regulating services are also a useful place to start in developing policy decisions on how to manage for ecosystem services, because there is some evidence that they are representative of a wider set of ecosystem services that tend to trade off against the provisioning services, such as food or timber production. Raudsepp-Hearne et al. (2010) showed that, at landscape scale in Quebec, Canada, regulating services trade off against provisioning services such as food, wood or fiber production, but correlate positively with the diversity of cultural (such as esthetic, spiritual, educational, and recreational) benefits, and supporting ecosystem services (such as nutrient cycling, soil formation, and primary production).
Although we do not consider provisioning, cultural benefits, and supporting ecosystem services here, we believe it would be valuable to take a similar approach and list potential solutions to maintain or enhance these.
The listing exercise was conducted by email using established processes for collecting the expertise of a group of experts (Sutherland et al. 2011a). We selected a group of experts with extensive knowledge of a range of aspects of ecosystem service research and management. These experts are the authors of this paper. The initial list of solutions or interventions for each type of regulating service was compiled by an expert in that specific area of ecosystem service research and management and then circulated to the full team of authors for revision and expansion. There was considerable, and iterative, discussion by email as to whether certain interventions or classes of interventions should be included. The authors also consulted widely to try to reduce omissions from the draft list. The near-final draft was circulated within various organizations and among other experts for further input.
Such a list can always be added to. It is especially likely to miss novel and obscure interventions. We stress that although all the solutions are presented in the same manner and without qualification, they may differ in the scale of their impacts. Some may be controversial (e.g., ocean fertilization) or unlikely to be successful (e.g., coastal habitat creation in locations that have not previously supported such habitats). Others may have important negative consequences. For example, decreasing the level of land-use intensity through large-scale conversion to lower-yield organic farming could exacerbate loss of natural habitats through a requirement for greater land area (Hodgson et al. 2010).
We have focused efforts on considering the nature of on-the-ground management interventions rather than the mechanisms by which they are achieved. We do not include large-scale pollution mitigation measures, such as alternative energy or fuel-efficient transportation, whose implementation is at a much larger scale than the operational management of ecosystems. Neither do we include any interventions aimed at changing market or consumer behavior. For example, we describe the means of storing carbon in ecosystems but not the option of paying for carbon storage. We consider this approach to be most useful from the perspective of those people responsible for managing ecosystems in policy or practice. That said, it may be profitable to develop a separate solution scan to assess the potential policy options that can be used to change market or consumer behavior.
Appendix 1 gives the 296 suggested solutions identified for retaining or enhancing regulating ecosystem services, organized by the major habitat types: forest, terrestrial wetland, freshwater, coastal, marine, agricultural land, and urban. Table 1 classifies the interventions according to both the broad habitat and the type of regulating ecosystem service likely to be enhanced. It shows that relatively few management interventions were identified to benefit air quality or enhance regulation of diseases, whereas there are many ways of improving regulation of erosion or natural hazards. The interventions also differ markedly across habitats: few solutions were identified for marine habitats, but agricultural land has the highest number of interventions. This is presumably because it is easier to devise and implement new land-use and management practices in agricultural land that is already heavily managed.
The solution scan provides an easy way to begin assessing the extent to which interventions might provide benefits across multiple ecosystem services. In Table 2, we list 17 interventions, or classes of intervention, that enhance multiple (three or more) regulating ecosystem services. One of these interventions, “Use measures for reducing soil loss (such as cover crops and reduced tillage),” was identified as beneficial for eight of the nine regulating ecosystem services.
This exercise shows that there is a considerable range of possible solutions for maintaining and enhancing regulating ecosystem services. By its very nature, this kind of list will never be fully comprehensive. There are expected to be some biases in the range of interventions included and the level of detail, according to the expertise of the people involved in drawing up the list. Our list of interventions was informed by a limited set of experts from mostly western European institutions, with the inevitable biases that this introduces. More tailored solution scans for specific regions and environmental problems could be drawn up by combined groups involving local researchers and people actually managing ecosystem services or benefiting from them, such as the “ecosystem stewards” defined by Schultz et al. (2007).
The solution scan as presented here does not indicate the expected cost effectiveness of any given intervention. Figure 1 shows the subsequent steps and considerations that will be required to move from an initial solution scan to a plan of action for enhancing regulating ecosystem services in a given landscape. Consideration of cost effectiveness, as well as the identification of possible risks and the potential for undesirable outcomes, is central to this wider process.
Effectiveness will vary according to circumstance and geographic context and will depend on the presence or absence of other facilitating or exacerbating factors. The research and systematic review part of the process (moving from stage 3 to stage 5 in Fig. 1) requires a thorough assessment of the evidence for the most promising interventions or sets of interventions (Sutherland et al. 2004). Ideally, this will involve systematic reviews of evidence for individual interventions (Munroe et al. 2012, Pullin et al. 2013), combined with synopses that collate evidence relating to all interventions on a topic. The synopsis approach has recently been applied to all known interventions to conserve wild bees (Dicks et al. 2010) and birds (Williams et al. 2013) globally. The research and review process could also involve eliciting expert judgement where published data are sparse or time is short (Martin et al. 2012), or using expert judgement to evaluate a complex evidence base (Dicks et al. 2013).
There is a strong tendency in both policy and research to jump from stage 2 (Prioritization of problem) to stage 4 (Gathering and review of evidence) without a solution-scanning stage. When this happens, the choice of interventions to cover is not the primary purpose of the reviewing exercise, and so the list of interventions tends not to be so thorough as one generated by a dedicated and collaborative solution scan. For example, Kremen and Miles (Kremen and Miles 2012) reviewed evidence for effects of diversified farming systems on the delivery of various ecosystem services. Everything in the list of farm or landscape-scale management interventions they used as the basis for their search protocol is included in our solution scan, but there are additional options in our list that are also part of diversified farming systems. For example, reduced livestock stocking rates and reduced use of agrochemicals appear several times in the agricultural land sections of our list (Appendix 1), but were not incorporated into the literature search of Kremen and Miles (2012).
Some of the interventions included in Appendix 1, such as reduced agrochemical use and coastal protection, are well studied. Others, such as the use of biochar and the use of new technologies for cleaning up waste or pollution, are more novel and much less well researched. Filtering out interventions that are inappropriate in a given context or geographic region (Filters 3 and 4 in Fig. 1) will be influenced by limitations on resources and technical expertise necessary for their implementation, as well as by the available knowledge on cost effectiveness.
Although options in this list are presented as individual interventions, in reality they are often not independent, as there can be conflicts or synergies among them (Bradbury et al. 2010, Fisher et al. 2011). As we have shown, certain interventions are likely to provide benefits across multiple ecosystem services (Table 2), with both forest protection and soil conservation considered likely to enhance a wide range of regulating ecosystem services. These types of intervention should, therefore, be particularly attractive as solutions for ecosystem service conservation in general. Many of the same interventions would also provide additional provisioning, cultural, or supporting services such as improvements in fisheries or recreational opportunities, and similar listings of these services would be an important contribution for future planning. In a given local context, there may also be synergies between management interventions to support ecosystem services and existing or planned management being carried out for other purposes, such as habitat conservation or recreation.
Conflicts or trade-offs are likely to occur. For example, there is an obvious conflict between intervention number 175 (“Increase resistance of trees by forest management (e.g., thinning for bark beetle pests)” and 184 (“Avoid thinning to reduce the risk of infestation of the stand by pathogens (e.g., root rot)”) in Appendix 1. Both are recommended to enhance pest regulation in forests. As an example of trade-offs generated between different regulating services, tree planting (as in intervention 8, “Reforest degraded land and encourage benign abandonment of low productivity or disused land” for example) may increase carbon stocks above ground, but at the same time reduce water recharge rates to aquifers (Dye 1996). In such cases, the appropriate solution will depend on the detailed environmental and socioeconomic context in which the decision is made. In these examples, the tree species being grown, the prevalent tree pathogens in the area, or the importance of aquifer recharge rates to the delivery of clean water for local communities seem likely to be important considerations. What is known about the effectiveness and relative costs of the conflicting solutions will also be important. A thorough assessment of potential synergies and trade-offs is clearly the next step in determining options for management, following this initial solution-scanning step (see Fig. 1, Stage 4, Filters 3 and 4). Nevertheless, a key strength of the solution-scanning approach is that it encourages recognition of as many interventions as possible, thus helping to ensure that any subsequent prioritization is transparent and defensible.
Applications of this Approach
We believe that the straightforward listing of possible solutions can help simplify both research and practice. We envisage three main ways in which solution scanning can be used. The main application is to provide a resource for policy makers and practitioners who need swiftly to decide which interventions to carry out from all available options. This allows them to ensure they have considered a full set of possibilities before coming to decisions based on available evidence, resources and technical expertise, local priorities, and synergies with existing management. To this end, the results of papers such as this one should be widely and effectively disseminated beyond academic circles. Solution scans and the subsequent prioritization processes presented here may be particularly useful in meeting the demands of high-level science policy processes like the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Pe’er et al. 2013), especially because, when carried out at the regional level, they offer an opportunity to incorporate traditional and indigenous knowledge. Second, such a scan provides an important input to setting research agendas for further studies, based on synthesis of evidence (Sutherland et al. 2004, Dicks et al. 2010, Sutherland et al. 2011b) and expert evaluation of evidence for policy questions (Dicks et al. 2013). Finally, making options explicit encourages other practitioners and researchers to identify possible interventions that may have been omitted from the original listing—ensuring that the process is dynamic and evolving.
One means of evaluating the effectiveness of specific interventions listed here is through the development of tailored monitoring tools that allow researchers to monitor changes in the provision of ecosystem services, either directly or via the benefits humans derive from them (Fisher et al. 2009). Combining measures of change in ecosystem health with information that characterizes different interventions, such as cost, would allow the application of formal analytical techniques for evaluation, such as cost-effectiveness and cost-utility analysis (Laycock et al. 2009). Once assessments have been made of the impacts of each intervention on a range of ecosystem services, synergies, trade-offs, and off-site effects can be highlighted. This information can then be used, in conjunction with other local considerations, to develop management strategies to deliver multifunctional landscapes (e.g., Turner et al. 2008, Haaland et al. 2011, Gulickx et al. 2013). Analytical techniques and frameworks, such as portfolio analysis (Bryan 2010), multiattribute decision analysis (Prato 1999), assessment of ecosystem service bundles (Raudsepp-Hearne et al. 2010), or GIS-linked modeling (Nemec and Raudsepp-Hearne 2013, Burkhard et al. 2012) will also be important in highlighting ecosystem service interactions and informing landscape-scale management decisions.
This exercise has focused on actual physical interventions and investments in ecological infrastructures, rather than on the wider social, economic, political, or judicial mechanisms by which they might be achieved. Many of the interventions listed could be carried out by individuals or organizations wishing to reduce their environmental impact. They could be encouraged through incentives, such as payments, or disincentives, such as taxation or legislation. Some are possible through changes in individual behavior, whereas others demand collective action. Some interventions, especially those that could be brought about by simple changes in behavior, could be encouraged through education to promote greater awareness of environmental issues. When considering the effectiveness and efficiency of various solutions in a local context, it is essential to understand the policy, delivery, and institutional frameworks that could affect them. These would include considerations of legal context, the power and legitimacy of different stakeholder groups, local decision-making processes, and the opportunities presented by existing legislative and regulatory processes. Broader economic analyses will also be of critical value. These will require not only an understanding of the economic costs of interventions, but also of alternatives, such as the use of engineered (nonecosystem) solutions for flood defence or erosion reduction. Devising general guidelines for the most appropriate sets of mechanisms for delivering these interventions at different spatial and temporal scales, taking into account these broader considerations, is a priority area for further research. One worthwhile future exercise would be to develop and link a parallel list of policy, market, and educational interventions that are likely to precipitate and sustain the management activities suggested here.
In conclusion, we present a thorough list of management interventions to maintain or enhance regulating ecosystem services. We argue that the list represents an important stage in the decision-making process for, in this case, natural resource and ecosystem management. It should form a basis for review and assessment of the available evidence on the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and applicability of different options, a stage that should be carried out separately for given contexts, scales, and locations.
Although we have limited our solution scan here to regulating ecosystem services, the same process could be carried out for the other classes of ecosystem services: provisioning, supporting, and cultural. We suggest that solution scanning could be adopted more widely, covering many environmental issues. These might range, for example, from how to reduce forest loss and degradation to how to enhance food security. Equally, the methodology might be applied in other areas of policy, such as improving road safety, education or reducing the impact of recreational drugs on society.
This activity was initiated as part of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. We thank Abi Burns, Rob Cunningham, Peter Daszak, Gethin Davies, Benedict Gove, and Birgitta Rämert for input. The research was partly funded by RELU (RES 240-25-006), Arcadia, NERC (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability Directorate, NE/F01614X/1, NE/K001191/1 and NE/J500665/1), SAPES (Multifunctional Agriculture: Harnessing Biodiversity for Sustaining Agricultural Production and Ecosystem Services), and FORMAS (the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning).
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