The link between biodiversity and ecosystem services: how to incorporate scientific knowledge into a conservation strategy.
Velden, M.A.J. van der
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The natural capital stocks and the associated ecosystem services are essential to the functioning of the earth’s life-support system and invaluable for humankind as they contribute to human wellbeing and welfare (Constanza et al., 1997). However, humanity has been depleting these services during the past decades mainly due to deforestation and forest degradation. The loss of species associated with deforestation and forest degradation results in a decrease in valuable ecosystem services and a decrease in our wellbeing (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Biodiversity can play multiple roles in ecosystem processes and services. Biodiversity can act as a regulator of key ecosystem processes, as a final ecosystem service, or as a good in itself. These roles support the regulation, habitat, production and information functions of ecosystems (De Groot et al, 2000). In turn, these functions underlie the proper functioning of ecosystems and the ability to provide services to humankind (Alcamo et al., 2003; Haines-Young & Potschin, 2010). Biological diversity is integrated into ecosystems in many ways. For example, species richness, species composition, functional group richness, genetic diversity, and species evenness all haven an effect on the functioning of ecosystems (Isbell, 2012). However, functional diversity seems to be the major factor involved in maintaining ecological integrity, and, in turn in the provision of ecosystem services (Chapin et al., 2000; Hooper et al., 2005; Díaz et al, 2006b). One of the world’s most important providers of ecosystem services is the Amazon rainforest. It harbors a rich array of flora and fauna and offers a wealth of services and goods to society. The Amazon represents 40% of the earth’s remaining tropical rainforests and is the world’s largest terrestrial store of carbon and biodiversity. Unfortunately at least half a million square kilometers of Amazonian rainforest have lost during the past 20 years due to deforestation. This not only threatens the livelihoods and wellbeing of local communities, but also effects the provision of ecosystem services that are of vital importance to humankind’s survival. A loss of 30 to 40% of Amazonian rainforest is expected to result in irreversible large-scale disruptions of the Amazon biome. This ecological tip over point needs to be avoided if we are to preserve the Amazon (Verweij et al., 2009). Up to 2004 deforestation in the Amazon increased each year, but since the year 2005 data show a decrease of over 70% (Nepstad, 2007; INPE, 2011; Boucher et al., 2013). This decrease has been triggered by new incentives to protect and conserve the Amazon. Examples of these incentives are expansions of protected areas, certification for biofuel, beef and soy products, reductions of worldwide livestock production system’s dependence on soy feedstock, elimination of subsidies that favour the expansion of soy, oil palm, sugarcane and cattle ranching in the Amazon and payments for ecosystem services (e.g. REDD+). All these incentives favour the sustainable use of the Amazon and the services it provides so that future generations can also enjoy and benefit from what the Amazon provides. With international cooperation, legislation and commitment humankind can continue the positive trend and further reduce deforestation and forest degradation and their consequences in favour of a sustainable use of the natural world including its services. However, to achieve this we need to expand our knowledge and further identify the link between biological diversity and ecosystem functioning and the provision of services (Mace et al., 2012).