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Boundaries of the SEQ Ecosystem Services Framework

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The type, magnitude and complexity of information and detail required and available to support the Framework meant certain assumptions and boundaries neccessarily needed to be created. Based on the design of the Framework, below are the boundaries for consideration when applying the Framework.

 

POTENTIAL rather than ACTUAL ECOSYSTEM SERVICE PROVISION

Potential ecosystem service provision is assessed rather than actual ecosystem service provision.

The rate and scale of ecosystem functions and services should be considered when applying the Framework.

It is important to recognise the Framework assesses the potential of the ecosystems in SEQ to provide ecosystem services, not actual ecosystem service provision. The provision of the ecosystem service 'Building and Fibre Resources' provides a good example of potential rather than actual ecosystem service provision. Early European settlers recognised the high potential of 'Rainforest' ecosystems to provide timber for building materials. These ecosystems were harvested heavily for this resource, therefore the potential of the ecosystem to provide this service was actually ulitlised. Now, only a few scattered areas of rainforests still remain across SEQ. Today, due to current legislation protecting the remaining areas of rainforest, stakeholders are restricted from accessing this ecosystem service from this type of ecosystem. But rainforests still have a high potential to provide this ecosystem service (per unit of area) whether we actually use it or not.

 

Feedback loops are not well known.

Due to the wide range of factors that can influence decisions on managing ecosystems and the resulting diversity of possible activities, human inputs and technology are not accounted for in this Framework.

The full range of ecosystem services need to be considered when conducting an assessment.

THE RATE AND SCALE that ECOSYSTEM FUNCTIONS AND ecosystem SERVICES occur

Boundaries of ecosystems are not sharp but diffuse and ecosystem functions know no human boundaries, geographic or temporal (e.g. property, local government or regional boundaries, or political timeframes). Some ecosystem functions can occur quickly and in situ (e.g. pollination), others may take many years and can be defuse (e.g. gas regulation), or even thousands of years (e.g. soil formation). The same exists for ecosystem services. Some ecosystem services occur quickly and in situ (e.g. food production), others may take years, decades or longer and rely on the handing down of knowledge across generations (e.g. spiritual and religious values).

Ecosystem functions and services are interactive and synergistic rather than discrete. The scores provided in this Framework are discrete. The complexity of all the synergies between ecosystems, ecosystem functions and their relationship to humans provides barriers to current modeling and science and are therefore unaccountable or were beyond the resources of this Project. The limitations of simple scoring are recognised and scores provided in this Framework should therefore be accepted as a minimum assessment of the relationship between ecosystems and human well-being.

When conducting an ecosystem service assessment, or managing for ecosystem services, it is important to understand the scale (temporal and spatial) at which different ecosystem functions and ecosystem services occur. As well, any directional bias in the flow from ecosystem function to ecosystem service and any time lags between the event and possible or actual impacts (i.e. events occurring in the present may have devastating or beneficial effects many years down the track).

Adaptive management of ecosystem services will involve developing long-term goals and flexible ways of reaching them. Adaptive management over time requires diagnosing the reasons for problems and solutions to them - to understand what is going wrong and how to design new responses to reach goals. A tipping point is a very particular threshold that is a culmination of a build-up of numerous small actions that together results in a big change. More information (albeit very limited) on the rate and scale and directional bias from ecosystem function to service provision is provided in the ecosystem function introduction page. To support the Framework, research into geographic and temporal scales is currently being conducted.

 

Incorporating information on Feedback loops

Changing human conditions (i.e. through environmental, social or economic factors) both directly and indirectly drive changes in biodiversity, ecosystems, ecosystem functions and ultimately changes in ecosystem services and human well-being. For any cause, an effect will take place and feedback loops can occur at any stage. Limited information on feedback loops within and across our ecological and social systems is known and has not been incorporated into the Framework.

At this stage, the Framework assesses the flow of goods and services provided by ecosystems and ecosystem functions and does not attempt to reverse the assessment and capture how the well-being as experienced by the community impacts on the provision of these ecosystems, functions or services. Nor does it contain detailed information on how the 'use' of these ecosystem services affects the ecosystems or biodiversity themselves.

For example, we know marine and coastal ecosystems are important to providing the service 'recreational opportunities', particularly opportunities for recreational fishing which contributes to many people's well-being in SEQ. However, information has not been incorporated into this Framework on how the collective well-being of those across the SEQ region using this ecosystem service affects these ecosystems (now or into the future). Wherever possible, information on feedback loops across components of the Framework should be incorporated into any assessment of ecosystem services.

 

Incorporating information on HUMAN INPUTS AND TECHNOLOGY

Humans are an integral and often dominant component of ecosystems, particularly in urban and cultivated ecosystems. Human inputs and technology are often applied to an ecosystem in order to use or receive a service, or use or receive the service in a quantity or quality greater than that naturally provided by the ecosystem. An example of this is the ecosystem service 'Food Products'. Depending on whether food is grown and harvested in natural or cultivated ecosystems, different levels of human inputs and technology are required to continuously provide food products. A rainforest can potentially be a continual source of food (e.g. lilly pillies), limited food is realised from a cultivated ecosystem (e.g. small or tree crops) without human inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, water etc. Although rainforests have a higher potential to provide this ecosystem service with minimal human inputs to the system (i.e. they have a high level of self regulation), human inputs into ecosystems have enabled us to choose the type, quantity and quality of the food we grow and where we grow it in SEQ.

Ecosystem services are the goods and services that are provided freely and naturally by ecosystems. The range of management activities (i.e. human inputs and technology) that can be applied to receive a benefit from ecosystem services is incredibly diverse across all the different types of ecosystems in the SEQ region. Factors influencing the type of management activities will be political, economic, social or environmental, or a combination of these factors. Due to the wide range of factors that can influence decisions on managing ecosystems and the resulting diversity of possible activities, when developing the scores within the Framework, no human inputs or technology were accounted for in the assessment (for example, because management activities could range from organic to highly managed agricultural practices). Human inputs required to facilitate ecosystem service provision and to receive a benefit should be considered within the decision making context.  

 

MANAGING FOR MULTIPLE ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

Often the provision of an ecosystem service is improved by the provision of another ecosystem service. For example, areas with 'Aesthetic Values' can provide the setting for 'Recreational Opportunities'; or an 'Iconic Species' to one person might contribute to anothers 'Sense of Place'. Some ecosystem services can therefore occur simulatenously and/or are dependant on other ecosystem services to exist. Ecosystem services are interconnected not discrete.

Care must be taken when managing for ecosystem service provision as the use of some services, particularly those of the extrative kind, can impair an ecosystems functioning and therefore compete with the use of other services. For example, the use of 'Building and Fibre Resources' (e.g. the felling of trees and the extraction of timber from an ecosystem) can diminish the use of 'Genetic Resources' (e.g. genes from wild plant and animal species) with unknown potential for other human benefits. When conducting an ecosystem services assessment and managing for ecosystem service provision, the full suite of ecosystem services must be considered.