Bundles of ecosystem services as a fingerprint of the system
A good entry point to the discussion about benefits obtained from the system is the ecosystem services concept. All landscapes and seascapes provide us with provisioning services, such as food, fiber, fodder and construction materials, regulating services, such as climate regulation and flood control, and cultural services, such as opportunities for recreation and spiritual values in nature. For example, a mangrove forest can provide coastal communities with firewood, flood protection, and habitat for fish species that people value.
Farmland close to the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda. A good entry point to the discussion about benefits obtained from the system are ecosystem services. The multi-functional landscape in this photo provides people with a diverse bundle of services, including crops from the fields, wood products from the patches of trees, and clean water from the streams coming down the mountains. Photo: iStock.
These ecosystem services interact with each other, in response to how the landscape is managed (e.g. what fishing methods are used), and the biophysical conditions that exists (e.g., the coastline structure and key species), resulting in a particular set of ecosystem services that is specific to that system. This is called a bundle of ecosystem services (figure 10.1).
Figure 10.1. An ecosystem services bundle consists of a set of provisioning services, such as food and construction materials (yellow), regulating services, such as flood protection and climate regulation (green), and cultural services, such as opportunities for recreation (blue). The approximate amount of each service is relative to other services in the bundle. Different groups of people in the system will benefit from different services in different ways. A
social-ecological system produces a specific bundle of ecosystem services, under a given management regime and in response to existing biophysical conditions. The bundle can therefore be seen as a fingerprint of the systems current
trajectory of development. Defining system benefits through an “ecosystem service bundle” lens helps keep the Wayfinder process focused on sustainability. Illustration: E.Wikander/Azote
Different groups of people in the system will benefit from the bundle of services in different ways (food, health, income) and to different degrees. For example, while the whole community will benefit from the flood protection provided by the mangrove forest, only fishermen with access to a boat may be able to fish certain fish species. The attached case illustrates how men and women in coastal Kenya in different ways and to different degrees benefit from different services provided by the mangrove.
A bundle of ecosystem services, together with the distributed benefits it provides to the population, can be seen as sort of a fingerprint of the system, which illustrates important relations between humand and their surrounding landscapes and seascapes. Looking at system benefits through this lens enables an integrated social-ecological perspective, which helps with keeping the Wayfinder process focused on the close connections between people and nature and sustainability issues.
Click here to learn more about ecosystem services and human well-being by Tim Daw, Researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre
Documenting ecosystem services
One way to start your exploration of benefits is by simply listing important provisioning, regulating and cultural services in your system, and then reflect on how this bundle of services contributes to different aspects of wellbeing for different groups of people in the system. It is important to both think about direct benefits (such as food production) and indirect ones (such as pollination), if the benefits are increasing or decreasing, and if there are known trade-offs or synergies between them. For example, there are known synergies between soil organic matter and crop yield, and known trade-offs between intensive crop production and cultural landscape values.
It can be useful to draw simple maps or diagrams of the system and the linkages between ecosystem services and the different groups that benefit from those services. In some cases, there may be quantitative data that can support the exploration of ecosystem services, whereas in other cases this will be primarily a qualitative assessment, at least to start with. See the attached activity sheet and discussion guide.
Alternative framings for system benefits
In some contexts, an “ecosystem services” framing may be perceived as too technical and/or not able to capture the way people relate to nature. In those cases, other framings should be used to characterize system benefits. Simple lists of outputs or products or even more broad categories like food, shelter etc from the system organized by land uses or ecosystem types can be a useful start.