Balancing tradeoffs: Reconciling multiple environmental goals when ecosystem services vary regionally

Christine S. O'Connell, Kimberly M. Carlson, Santiago Cuadra, Kenneth J. Feeley, James Gerber, Paul C. West, Stephen Polasky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

As the planet's dominant land use, agriculture often competes with the preservation of natural systems that provide globally and regionally important ecosystem services. How agriculture impacts ecosystem service delivery varies regionally, among services being considered, and across spatial scales. Here, we assess the tradeoffs between four ecosystem services - agricultural production, carbon storage, biophysical climate regulation, and biodiversity - using as a case study the Amazon, an active frontier of agricultural expansion. We find that the highest values for each of the ecosystem services are concentrated in different regions. Agricultural production potential and carbon storage are highest in the north and west, biodiversity greatest in the west, and climate regulation services most vulnerable to disruption in the south and east. Using a simple optimization model, we find that under scenarios of agricultural expansion that optimize total production across ecosystem services, small increases in priority for one ecosystem service can lead to reductions in other services by as much as 140%. Our results highlight the difficulty of managing landscapes for multiple environmental goals; the approach presented here can be adapted to guide value-laden conservation decisions and identify potential solutions that balance priorities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number064008
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume13
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank M Clark, M Aide, A Baccini, and the Global Landscapes Initiative for generously making datasets available and P Engstrom for technical support and assistance with figure creation. We are grateful to N Mueller, J Powers, D Tilman and the Global Landscapes Initiative for helpful conversations. Funding was provided by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a University of Minnesota Graduate Student Fellowship to C.S.O. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Belmont Forum/FACCE-JPI funded DEVIL project NE/M021327/1, and Institute on the Environment supported PCW, JSG, KMC. Funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Keywords

  • Amazonia
  • conservation
  • ecosystem services
  • efficiency frontier
  • land use

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