Trading off biodiversity & ecosystem services

There are growing calls that ecosystem services and biodiversity are integrated into the design of conservation interventions. This study sought to investigate the synergies and trade-offs in safeguarding ecosystem services and biodiversity in the Little Karoo region, a semi-arid biodiversity hotspot in South Africa. It used data on three ecosystem services—carbon storage, water recharge, and fodder provision—and data on biodiversity to examine several conservation planning scenarios.

First, it investigated the amount of each ecosystem service captured incidentally by a conservation plan to meet targets for biodiversity only while minimizing opportunity costs. It then examined the costs of adding targets for ecosystem services into this conservation plan. Finally, it explored trade-offs between biodiversity and ecosystem service targets at a fixed cost.

At least 30% of each ecosystem service was captured incidentally when all of biodiversity targets were met. By including data on ecosystem services, we increased the amount of services captured by at least 20% for all three services without additional costs. When biodiversity targets were reduced by 8%, an extra 40% of fodder provision and water recharge were obtained and 58% of carbon could be captured for the same cost. The opportunity cost (in terms of forgone production) of safeguarding 100% of the biodiversity targets was about US$500 million.

These results show that with a small decrease in biodiversity target, substantial gains for the conservation of ecosystem services can be achieved within our biodiversity priority areas for no extra cost.

Egoh BN, B Reyers, J Carwardine, M Bode, PJ O’Farrell, KA Wilson, HP Possingham, M Rouget, W deLange, DM Richardson & RM Cowling (2010). Safeguarding Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in the Little Karoo, South Africa. Conservation Biology 24: 1021–1030.

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