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Assessing ecosystem services to identify conservation priorities

Efforts to save wilderness often play out within a win-lose framework, pitting conservation against economic opportunity. But as human pressures on wild lands continue to escalate, conservation biologists are seeking win-win approaches based on the notion that ecosystems provide numerous economic benefits--wetlands mitigate flooding, for example--to a wide variety of beneficiaries. By quantifying these ecosystem services and the "opportunity" costs of not developing habitat, planners can identify areas that provide important ecosystem services and determine who benefits from these services and who incurs costs. But quantifying costs and benefits and the flow of ecosystem services across a variable landscape is a daunting task. Thus far, it has not been clear to what degree traditional conservation plans for biodiversity also protect valuable ecosystem services. Taking complementary approaches to this problem, two new studies use spatially explicit models to incorporate ecosystem services into conservation planning. In one study, Robin Naidoo and Taylor Ricketts weigh the economic value of five ecosystem services against the costs of conservation in the Atlantic forests of Paraguay. In the second study, Kai Chan, Rebecca Shaw, Gretchen Daily, and colleagues present a strategy for integrating ecosystem services into biodiversity conservation plans in California's Central Coast ecoregion to systematically identify priorities for conservation.

Naidoo and Ricketts assessed five ecosystem services--sustainable bushmeat harvest, sustainable timber harvest, pharmaceutical bioprospecting, existence value (the intrinsic value of unspoiled wilderness), and carbon storage (forest conversion releases carbon dioxide)--provided by forests in the Mbaracayu Biosphere Reserve. The reserve, once covered by 90% forest but now highly fragmented and threatened beyond a protected core, supports large-scale cattle ranching, soybean production, and small-scale farming, along wit
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Contact: Natalie Bouaravong
press@plos.org
415-568-3445
Public Library of Science
30-Oct-2006


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