Ecosystem services are the benefits that people derive from the environment. They include provisioning services such as freshwater and food, regulating services such as flood and disease control, cultural services such as spiritual and recreational opportunities and habitat or supporting services that acknowledge the importance of habitats for species and the need to maintain genetic diversity. These services contribute to livelihoods and business and underpin the well-being of society. The ability of our ecosystems to provide these services depends on a system of landscape features, interrelationships and processes known as “ecological infrastructure”. Intact ecological infrastructure generally provides a range of services and also buffers the socio-ecological system from environmental change. Effective management of ecosystems is therefore critical for ensuring the continued supply of ecosystem services and enhancing the resilience of both ecosystems and vulnerable communities.
This ecosystem services research area works with landowners, businesses and government agencies to provide practical approaches for achieving integrated natural resources management and environmental sustainability. We focus on three strategic impact areas:
Investigation and management of ecosystem services, livelihoods and environmental change
We explore linkages between biodiversity and ecosystem services and assess how changes in these ecosystems and services may affect human well-being. Our work focuses on the sustainable management of ecosystems in a way that builds resilience and contributes to poverty alleviation.
Analysis and management of multi-functional landscapes
We develop and implement decision support tools which assess the production of ecosystem services, identify ecosystem service flows and evaluate trade-offs between development options. These methodologies consider multiple needs at a range of spatial and temporal scales thereby enabling decision-makers and managers to optimise benefits from both the natural and built environment.
Integration of ecosystem services into policy and planning
We aim to strengthen the science-policy interface by developing the science which is useful and necessary for planning processes and policy development. We also develop mechanisms for integrating this science into the decision-making process.
- Assessing linkages between biodiversity, ecosystem services and livelihoods
- Identifying critical ecosystem service areas requiring protection and/or restoration
- Mapping the distribution and flow of ecosystem services
- Determining the response of ecosystems and their services to environmental change
- Incorporating ecosystem services into planning tools and monitoring programs.
- Incorporating ecosystem services science into policy and planning processes
We have extensive in-house experience in a range of tools and methodologies relating to ecosystem services including geographic information systems, integrated conservation planning, ecological assessment methods and social survey methods. Our staff have worked on a diverse array of ecosystem services projects in southern and eastern Africa and where necessary draw additional skills, such as economic-ecological modelling, from an excellent network of highly-regarded specialists. We have published numerous technical reports and also participate regularly in various national and international conferences.
- The impacts of ecosystem services and environmental governance on human well-being in the Pongola floodplain, South Africa
- Prioritising ecological infrastructure to maintain livelihoods and the Polihali Dam in Lesotho
- The role of the Chyulu Hills in the delivery of ecosystem services in south-eastern Kenya