Centre researcher Erik Andersson explains the importance of considering urban ecosystem services in planning and management.
Urban areas continue to grow in size and numbers, and with this comes an increasing demand for resources.
An impending challenge is to ensure wellbeing for people living in cities while preventing loss of biodiversity and ecosystem degradation, to maintain a resilient flow of ecosystem services into and within urban areas.
In a recent special issue of the journal Ecosystem Services, centre researchers together with colleagues have explored the importance of maintaining green space in cities.
"Even though cities are and will be dependent on resources from distant systems, there are still ecosystem services that must be generated where we live; things crucial for human wellbeing"
Erik Andersson, co-editor of special issue Ecosystem Services
Andersson argues it is important to know more about how ecosystem services are produced and used in the urban landscape. As cities are growing all around the world, such knowledge can help guide the development of more sustainable and resilient urban systems.
A growing literature suggests that the production of ecosystem services can not be separated from the social-ecological context in which they are embedded – they are produced by and in the interaction between humans and nature. This becomes even more evident when considering the dimensions of access to and use of the services, as both access and use depend on social and cultural factors.
Ecosystem service production needs to be maintained, and the services must be accessible to the people.
Close to heart
In addition to the traditional aspects of ecosystem services, there are also cultural ecosystem services. These are the intangible ways in which natural systems benefit people, for example through recreational or spiritual nature experiences.
The concept is not always easy to define or measure but nevertheless of great importance.
"Cultural ecosystem services are things that people care about, sometimes that is in fact the definition of them," says Erik Andersson.
"This means that talking about them and acknowledging them can be a powerful way of engaging people in matters of urban green areas or biodiversity in cities and gaining support for management decisions."
There are many possible developments that threaten urban ecosystems. Land use is contested as land is a limited resource wanted for many different purposes.
In order to gain support for conservation decisions and stewardship of urban green spaces it is important to identify the different ways they are meaningful to people.
From theory to practice
The production of ecosystem services can be a useful indicator for sustainability work and resilience assessments. A continuous generation of services can be seen as a sign that the systems that are producing them are in decent shape, and a measure of services finally provided to their human beneficiaries can be used as a target for planning and management.
This could be applied to both tangible services such as food production or clean air, and to more intangible cultural services such as access to green areas for recreation or stress reduction.
The editors of the special issue argue that turning the ecosystem service framework into practice could enrich the discussion about how to manage natural resources, but that more studies are needed to identify possible barriers and opportunities in order to do so successfully.
"To effectively protect ecosystems and biodiversity, and enhance the production of ecosystem services in cities, research concerning urban ecosystem services needs to take into account the complex social-ecological systems that cities are," Andersson concludes.
"Ecosystem services are co-produced by people and nature. This understanding is critical to furthering planning, management and governance for sustainability and human wellbeing."
Special Issue in Ecosystem Services: Advancing the Frontier of Urban Ecosystem Services Research: Lessons and Future Challenges. Edited by: E. Andersson, T. Elmqvist, P. Kremer and T. McPhearson
Erik Andersson holds a PhD in natural resource management and systems ecology. His main research interest is in functional landscapes and the spatial framework that influences human interactions with nature.
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