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Areas that are “hotspots” of biodiversity can carry higher value
for other important ecosystem services, including carbon storage, water conservation and scenic beauty, according to a new study from Costa Rica. In areas that provide high carbon storage, however, benefits from the other services are slightly lower.
That means land-use planners can reap maximum benefits from various environmental services if they emphasize protection of areas of high biodiversity, said Bruno Locatelli, lead author of a paper published in the journal Environmental Conservation.
“Biodiversity hotspots are more likely to be hotspots of multiple ecosystem services, but the same is not necessarily true of hotspots for other services,” said Locatelli, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD).
The study, which examined synergies and trade-offs among ecosystem services, especially in national parks, showed that areas of high carbon storage and highbiodiversity did not always coincide.
“We found that if you emphasize protecting areas of high biodiversity in Costa Rica, that will have co-benefits for the three other ecosystem services,” Locatelli said. “But if you put the emphasis on protecting areas for carbon storage, the co-benefits are lower.”
That has important implications for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and forest Degradation) programs, a UN-backed mechanism that would provide
incentives to conserve forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“If REDD+ programs are designed strictly to maximize carbon storage, they may not protect the forests that provide the greatest benefits to society in terms of biodiversity, or the most important local ecosystem services,” Locatelli said. “Those initiatives could have greater co-benefits for local people and the country if priority areas were selected based on the value of multiple ecosystem services.”
Costa Rica has been a pioneer in payments for ecosystem services (PES), in which landowners receive compensation for managing forests or other lands sustainably.
In some cases, forests provide services that benefit local residents, such as scenic beauty or regulation of downstream water supplies. Other services, such as biodiversity or carbon storage for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, benefit the entire country, even the entire world, the researchers said.
The study found that services provided by ecosystems varied depending on factors such as topography, climate and biogeography.
For example, forests protect soils from erosion more on mountain slopes than in the lowlands, while lowland forests tend to be home to a larger number of species.
Cloud forests in Costa Rica’s central mountains are especially rich in ecosystem services, however, because they tend to have many endemic species, store large amounts of carbon in the soil, and trap water from clouds.
The researchers found that 80 percent of the carbon and biodiversity hotspots were concentrated in six watersheds in the country. Two watersheds – Reventazón-Parismina and Chirripo-Tortuguera – were hotspots for all four of the ecosystem services they studied.
“We found hotspots of multiple services, especially around densely populated areas in Costa Rica’s central valley, where many people benefit,” Locatelli said.
The protected areas in that region regulate water supplies for thousands of people living downstream, while providing scenic beauty for urban dwellers, he said.
“The montane forests also contain a lot of carbon, especially in soils, while dry forests contained less,” he said.
Locatelli and his colleagues mapped not only the watersheds that provide the four ecosystem services, but also the people who benefit from them. For PES schemes, the value of the services is based on a combination of the natural supply of the services and human demand.
Merely mapping hotspots of ecosystem services could lead policymakers to conclude that some places are worth conserving while others are not, Locatelli said.
“Basing the analysis on the value of ecosystem services, instead of hotspots, would help planners make better decisions about conserving multiple services.”
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This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and is supported by AusAid (CIFOR-REDD+ research partnership) and CATIE’s Mesoamerican Agroenvironmental Program (MAP).