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Insights from an Australian planning framework for biodiversity and ecosystem services

Posted by pbio on 07 May 2009 at 22:14 GMT

Author: Daniel P Faith
Position: Research Scientist
Institution: The Australian Museum
Submitted Date: November 22, 2006
Published Date: November 28, 2006
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

Chan et al. [1] provide a welcome case study exploring the potential for systematic regional planning to integrate multiple ecosystem services and aspects of overall biodiversity conservation. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment [2], in calling for regional planning based on trade-offs and synergies among ecosystem services and broader biodiversity, pointed to previous experiences with a systematic conservation planning (SCP) framework used for this purpose. The Australian SCP case studies over the past decade [3-7], incorporating ecosystem services and biodiversity, provide some insights that complement the fresh perspectives provided by Chan et al.

As our SCP framework has evolved to explicitly treat 'ecosystem services' as part of a broader consideration of costs and benefits [5,8], it has shifted from an emphasis on trade-offs (land allocations address cases where biodiversity conservation and an ecosystem service cannot be achieved in the same place) to greater consideration of the synergies from multiple benefits achieved in the same place (e.g., SCP for regional conservation payments, with synergies among biodiversity conservation, erosion control, and salinity management [7]; see also [4]). The Chan et al. study was largely restricted to identifying places delivering multiple benefits, and highlighted the need to address 'incompatible' purposes. SCP offers a formal combined planning framework for exploring both trade-offs and synergies.

Another acknowledged need [1] that is provided by a general SCP framework based on multi-criteria analysis is the avoidance of over-dependence on targets. Our early SCP case study [3] combined forestry-related ecosystem services, alternative land uses, variable land suitabilities, and surrogates for overall biodiversity; it illustrated how variable weights on factors allowed exploration of 'frontier curves' in a trade-offs/synergies space, without using targets.

Distinctions aside, past SCP case studies integrating ecosystem services and biodiversity have delivered a key lesson, echoed nicely in Chan et al's study, that combined planning for both ecosystem services and biodiversity produces 'even better' solutions. Such efficiency gains, relative to conventional planning or 'business-as-usual' approaches, suggest that the SCP framework may be the key to addressing the difficult 2010 biodiversity target of a 'significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth'. Our proposed approach [6,9] suggests that regional implementation of SCP trade-offs and synergies (among biodiversity, ecosystem services and other factors) can imply a regional shift to reduced rate of loss of biodiversity. In essence, regional biodiversity conservation fares better because other regional values are better accommodated through combined planning. Our first SCP-2010 case study, in Papua New Guinea [10], has focused on the trade-offs involving biodiversity and agriculture/forestry ecosystem services. We now need SCP studies that explore how the 2010 target can be addressed by planning that takes full advantage of the synergies from ecosystem services benefits that can co-occur with biodiversity conservation.


[1] Chan KMA et al. (2006) PLoS Biol. 4(11):e379.

[2] McNeely JA et al. (2005) Biodiversity. In: Ecosystems and Human Well- Being, vol. 3, Policy Responses, K. Chopra, et al., Eds. (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Island Press, Washington, DC), pp. 119???172.

[3] Faith DP et al. (1996) Forest Ecol. Manag. 85:251-260.

[4] Faith DP et al. (2001) Pac. Cons. Biol. 6:325-343.

[5] Faith DP, Walker PA (2002) J. Biosciences 27:101-115.

[6] Faith DP (2005) Global Envir. Change 15:5-8.

[7] Gole C et al. (2005). Auction for Landscape Recovery : National Market-based Instrument Pilot Program. 184 p. (WWF-Australia: Sydney)

[8] Faith, DP (1997) Tr. Ecol. Evol. 12:66.

[9] Faith DP, Ferrier S (2005) Science Online, 6 Mar 2005.

[10] Faith DP (in review) Global Envir. Change

No competing interests declared.