Identifying key ecosystem service providing areas to inform national-scale conservation planning

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Effectively conserving ecosystem services in order to maintain human wellbeing is a global need that requires an understanding of where ecosystem services are produced by ecosystems and where people benefit from these services. However, approaches to effectively identify key locations that have the capacity to supply ecosystem services and actually contribute to meeting human demand for those services are lacking at broad spatial scales. We developed new methods that integrate measures of the capacity of ecosystems to provide services with indicators of human demand and ability to access these services. We then identified important areas for three ecosystem services currently central to protected area management in Canada—carbon storage, freshwater, and nature-based recreation—and evaluated how these hotspots align with Canada’s current protected areas and resource development tenures. We find that locations of ecosystem service capacity overlap only weakly (27–36%) with actual service providing areas (incorporating human access and demand). Overlapping hotspots of provision for multiple ecosystem services are also extremely limited across Canada; only 1.2% (∼56 000 km2) of the total ecosystem service hotspot area in Canada consists of overlap between all three ecosystem services. Canada’s current protected area network also targets service capacity to a greater degree than provision. Finally, one-half to two-thirds of current ecosystem service hotspots (54–66%) overlap with current and planned resource extraction activities. Our analysis demonstrates how to identify areas where conservation and ecosystem service management actions should be focused to more effectively target ecosystem services to ensure that critical areas for ecosystem services that directly benefit people are conserved. Further development of these methods at national scales to assess ecosystem service capacity and demand and integrate this with conventional biodiversity and conservation planning information will help ensure that both biodiversity and ecosystem services are effectively safeguarded.




Mitchell, M. G. E., Schuster, R., Jacob, A. L., Hanna, D. E. L., Dallaire, C. O., Raudsepp-Hearne, C., … Chan, K. M. A. (2021). Identifying key ecosystem service providing areas to inform national-scale conservation planning. Environmental Research Letters, 16(1).

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