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Scientific strategy

© Andrew Hendry

Introduction

As understanding of how biodiversity underpins the life-support system of our planet increases, more and more questions arise regarding individual ecosystems – particularly the functions they perform (e.g. biogeochemical processes) and the services they provide to human populations (e.g. production of food and fibre, carbon storage, maintenance of water and soil quality).

Current understanding of the implications of biodiversity change and loss is still very limited and fragmented. In particular, the specific nature of interdependencies between the structure and diversity of biotic communities and the functioning of ecosystems remains one of the most important unresolved questions in ecology. Yet, it is a question that has immense implications for human societies. Furthermore, ecosystem services are gaining increasing attention in support of decision-making despite current limitations on how biodiversity and its conservation contribute to services' sustained delivery.

ecoSERVICES explores the links between biodiversity and the ecosystem functions and services that support human well-being (see Fig below). It also seeks to determine human responses to changes in ecosystem services.

ecoSERVICES is one of the four Core Projects of DIVERSITAS, together with bioGENESIS, bioDISCOVERY and bioSUSTAINABILITY. ecoSERVICES investigates how biodiversity changes, the primary focus of bioGENESIS and bioDISCOVERY, affect ecosystem functioning and the provision of ecosystem services, thereby influencing strategies for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, i.e. the core topic of bioSUSTAINABILITY.

 

Scientific strategy

The scientific scope of ecoSERVICES is articulated around three interrelated foci that question current gaps in knowledge on biodiversity and its management. These gaps are then addressed through the implementation of specific research and outreach activities that fit each focus.

 

Focus 1. Linking biodiversity and ecosystem functioning

Focus 1 stemmed from the observation in the early 2000's that ecological research had mostly characterised the general relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning with small-scale, short-term experimental studies covering only one or two trophic levels. In reality, the changes in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning most likely to affect humans occur at large spatial and temporal scale and involve many trophic levels simultaneously. ecoSERVICES uses collaborative thinking and experimental work to incorporate increased biological complexity into ecological research and characterise and quantify the relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

 

Focus 2. Linking ecosystem functioning to the provision of services

Broadly defined as the benefits human societies derive as a result of ecosystem processes and functioning, ecosystem services (e.g. carbon storage, soil fertility) contribute to the maintenance of ecological conditions favourable to human health and well-being. ecoSERVICES analyses the relationship between ecological functioning and ecosystem services, and identifies links between changes in ecosystem structure (e.g. predation) and functioning (e.g. productivity) with changes in the delivery of ecosystem services (e.g., biological control, greenhouse gas regulation).

 

Focus 3. Assessing human responses to changes in ecosystem services

There are feedback mechanisms between changes in ecosystem services and human responses. In particular, humans adapt by modifying their behaviour and these responses form a critical component of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. ecoSERVICES assesses the effect of ecosystem service change on human well-being and evaluates human responses to ecosystem service change by analysing the socio-economic context of local resource users. ecoSERVICES also investigates which social and institutional changes may contribute to both a sustainable use of biological resources and human well-being.

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