New Europe-wide maps show the potential of landscapes to provide ecosystem goods and services over the next 20-30 years.
Ecosystem services, such as clean water, are essential for human wellbeing. These services need to be considered and valued to ensure multi-functional landscapes are sustainably managed to allow ecosystems to continue providing benefits and services to society.
Partly funded by the EU under the SENSOR project1, the research evaluated the relationship between the ecological properties of larger areas of land and the capacity or potential of these areas to deliver goods and services. These capacities are also known as 'landscape functions'.
In this study landscape functions were classified into four groups: 1) production functions, supplying 'natural products' to people; for example, commercial forest products; 2) regulation functions, maintaining the quality of the environment; for example, water regulation; 3) habitat functions, essential for maintaining nature and biodiversity; 4) information functions, providing people with cultural and recreational services. The study related 15 landscape functions to the capacity of the land to deliver ecosystem services.
In order to determine whether complex relationships between the functions of a landscape and different land characteristics, such as specific uses of land or particular environmental features, could be represented by a simple methodology, the researchers used a binary system to link land characteristics and landscape functions with either a '0' or a '1'.
A '0' represents a landscape characteristic that does not support a particular landscape function; for example, 'wetlands' (the landscape characteristic) do not support the provision of 'cultivated products' (the landscape function). However, 'wetlands' do support the provision of 'wildlife products' and this link is therefore represented by a '1' (a supportive role).
This system was used to assess the importance of landscape functions at particular locations across 581 administrative units of Europe, representing a range of different land characteristics. The result was a set of Europe-wide maps depicting the relative importance of each of the landscape functions.
These maps were compared with existing European maps of ecosystem services or environmental indicators and the researchers suggest that, at a continental scale, the simple binary links were able to adequately represent the complex interrelations between ecosystem services and land characteristics for 9 of the 15 landscape functions.
In addition, the sensitivity of the landscape function maps to changing land use was analysed with land use change scenarios. The results suggest, under these scenarios, this approach is valid for assessing the mid-term (20-30 years) potential of landscapes to deliver goods and services.
SENSOR (Sustainability Impact Assessment: Tools for Environmental, Social and Economic Effects of Multifunctional Land Use in European Regions) was supported by the European Commission under the 'Global Change and Ecosystems' priority of the Sixth Framework Programme. See: www.ip-sensor.org
Source: Kienast, F., Bolliger, J., Potschin, M. et al. (2009). Assessing Landscape Functions with Broad-Scale Environmental Data: Insights Gained from a Prototype Development for Europe. Environmental Management. 44:1099-1120.