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Mapping Ecosystem Services in the province of Barcelona in the context of SITxell project

Conceptual framework

Ecosystems and human well-being

Although there are various definitions and approaches, usually is accepted that "ecosystem services are considered direct or indirect contributions from the ecosystems for human well-being"(TEEB, 2010). The origins of the concept of "Ecosystem services" is back at the end of the 1970s, when some authors began to point out our social and economic dependence in relation to the goods and the functions of nature, with the aim of attracting the public interest towards biodiversity conservation (see Gómez-Baggethun et al., 2010 for a historical review of the concept of ecosystem services). The generalization of the concept at the scientific level came in the 1990s through two publications above all: the book “Nature's Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems” (Daily, 1997) and the scientific paper published in “Nature” under the title “The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital” (Constanza at al., 1997). The monetary values presented by this article caused a great impact, both scientific and political.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA 2005) identified four major categories of ecosystem services: habitat or support, supply or provision, regulation and cultural. The services included in the last three categories would be directly related to the main constituents for human well-being: security, basic material goods for a good quality of life, health and good social relations. Habitat or support services (which are not real services under the opinion of some authors) are directly related to main ecosystem functions.

With a level of impact similar to the ecosystems of the Millennium assessment, TEEB initiative (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, see TEEB 2010), aims to highlight the growing economic cost involved in biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems at a global level, and to propose measures at different levels in order to stop these processes.It is also important to mention the recent creation of IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), an intergovernmental independent platform open to all members of the United Nations that has led the evaluation of the State of biodiversity on the planet, its ecosystems and the essential services provided to the society.

Despite the great scientific and political interest in this field, there are still pending challenges that must be addressed in order to fully integrate the concept of ecosystem services in planning and decision-making (de Groot et al., 2010). For instance, the development of a framework of integration that fully consider the ecological, economic and socio-cultural values of ecosystems or the definition of methodologies to quantify, model and map the flow of the services generated by these ecosystems at different scales, which is still in the process to be established completely.

Linkages between ecosystem services and human well being

Ecosystem Services Classification

The relationship between the structure and the biophysical processes of ecosystems as well as the different dimensions of value relevant for human well-being, based on the concept of ecosystem services is a subject of scientific debate. One of the theoretical frameworks that is having more acceptance within the scientific community is the so-called "ecosystem services cascade" (Haines-Young & Potschin 2010). This framework differentiates between "functions", "services" and "benefits" to establish the connection among the biophysical structure of ecosystems and values attached by humans because of their relevance, whether economic or not. Thus, functions of ecosystems would be intermediaries between ecological processes and services, and could be defined as "the capacity of ecosystems" to provide goods and services that satisfy human needs, directly or indirectly" (De Groot, 1992; Gómez-Baggethun & de Groot, 2010). The effective use of a good or service provides benefits (which have a direct impact on human welfare) that in turn can be measured in monetary terms for society. This assessment (which could equate to the demand of the service) may have some impacts on the biophysical structure of ecosystems that could be adjusted through political action.

Mapping Ecosystem Services

Mapping of ecosystem services allows to highlight their territorial variability, to identify key areas of provision (the so-called green infrastructure) for their sustainable management, as well as to assess possible synergies and conflicts (trade-offs) between multiple services. Currently there is a great diversity of approaches, both because of the scale and scope and the method of evaluation of ecosystem services, or by the sources of information used.

One of the first attempts to map the monetary value of global ecosystem services was explained in the article mentioned above (Costanza et al., 1997). The method used was the value or benefit transfer (value or benefit transfer), in which the empirical results of valuation or quantification of ecosystem services in a case study were transferred to others, usually through the cartography of soil covers, habitats or biomes. This method has been used by different authors, but it was also criticized to neglect the spatial differences of the typologies of habitat and to give, therefore, inaccurate results (e.g. Nelson et al., 2009). There are also other methods to measure the social values obtained through surveys of preferences and subsequently to map ecosystem services by methodically integrating these values with biophysical data (e.g. Sherrouse et al., 2011). Finally there are sociological evaluations of the provision of ecosystem services that model the relationship between ecological variables (sampling of services measured in the field, weather, cover soil, water data, etc.) and social ecosystem services provided through the territory and their beneficiaries (e.g. Chan et al., 2006, Naidoo et al., 2008).

The ecosystem services mapping are usually regualting services (e.g. the capture and storage of carbon, erosion control or water regulation). Among provisioning services, the cartography of food production is the most widespread and in relation to cultural services it is usual to represent the recreational uses. The most commonly used information sources include data and soil covers, topographic information, or vegetation index maps. There are also models for the development of this type of cartography, from which one of the most widely used is the so named InVEST (the Integrated Tool to Value Ecosystem Services and their trade-offs). Other relevant tools to map ecosystem services are AIRES (the Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Sevices), and also SolVES (the Social Values for Ecosystem Services)

The cartography represents a key element for decision-making in the field of public administration. Due to its explicit nature, is the most common approach to study, analyze, plan and manage ecosystems services in an optimal and efficient way. The European Union (EU) in the document "The EU Biodiverstity Strategy to 2020" through objective 2 action 5 - maintenance and restoration of ecosystems and their services- foreseen that all member states must create a map of the state of ecosystem services in their territories by 2014.

Other institutions such as the World Bank or the United Nations, through some of its agencies and programmers also promote the evaluation of ecosystem services to improve the management and environmental planning and management. For exemple, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature or the United Nations Development Program among others.

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