A new study has compared conservation projects that focus on promoting only biodiversity with projects that focus on promoting both biodiversity and ecosystem services. The results dispel several myths surrounding ecosystem service projects and indicate they are as effective at addressing threats to biodiversity as their biodiversity counterparts.
Land alteration and degradation is increasing and biodiversity conservation often conflicts with human needs, especially in the face of growing populations and poverty. New projects must move beyond classic conservation approaches; one such approach is to focus on ecosystem services, which value the benefits provided by ecosystems to humans, such as water purification and nutrient cycling.
The research analysed projects from The Nature Conservancy (TNC)1, the world's largest conservation organisation. It compared 34 conservation projects that focused on ecosystem services with 26 conservation projects that focused on biodiversity. The projects were from North, Central and South America. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with project managers.
Results were reported around three major myths about the efficacy of projects focusing on ecosystem services:
Myth 1 - Ecosystem service projects direct resources towards a different set of threats than biodiversity projects. The results indicated both types of projects addressed all the major threats to similar degrees. For example, 94 per cent of ecosystem service projects and 100 per cent of biodiversity projects focused on reducing habitat destruction.
Myth 2 - Ecosystem service projects veer away from investment in protected areas. However, the results indicated that the two project types encouraged the same set of conservation activities and with similar frequencies.
Myth 3 - Ecosystem service projects are unstable and potentially short-term in nature. There was no significant difference between project types in their investments in areas such as education, community forums and workshops which all support a long-term perspective.
The study also identified additional benefits of ecosystem service projects compared with biodiversity projects. For example, ecosystem service projects target more agricultural landscapes through measures similar to the EU's agro-environmental policies. Ecosystem service projects also use a wider range of financial tools, such as carbon markets and ecotourism fees, which attract a wider range of funders, including private finance.
Additionally, the study reported seven cases of ecosystem service projects that created a broker-type structure to distribute money for the provision of particular ecosystem services. This was governed independently and involved locally based leaders. In addition to providing the services themselves, the system proved extremely successful in satisfying a wide range of interests, such as supporting education, creating jobs and monitoring the outcome of the project.
Source: Goldman, R.L. & Tallis, H. (2009). A Critical Analysis of Ecosystem Services as a Tool in Conservation Projects: The Possible Perils, the Promises, and the Partnerships. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1162(The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology, 2009): 63-78.