Rapid growth of the world’s human population and its consumption of natural resources is placing increasing pressure on landscapes to deliver high levels of multiple ecosystem services, such as the sustainable provisioning of food, carbon storage and recreation. However, there is a lack of general principles describing how this ‘landscape ecosystem multifunctionality’ can be achieved.
We hypothesize that whenever an 'ecosystem driver', i.e. any factor that drives ecosystem functioning at local scales (e.g. a keystone species, climate or land-use), has contrasting effects on different ecosystem services, thus causing trade-offs between them, maximizing heterogeneity in these ecosystem drivers will promote landscape-scale ecosystem multifunctionality. We tested this hypothesis in two ways. Firstly, we used simulations with theoretical data. Secondly, we used empirical data on 150 grassland plots spread over three regions in Germany. These plots vary in land-use intensity and in each 14 ecosystem services/functions were measured, to study under which circumstances heterogeneity in land-use promotes landscape multifunctionality.
In line with expectations, our simulation analysis with theoretical data demonstrates that where ‘ecosystem drivers’ have contrasting effects on different ecosystem services, maximizing heterogeneity in these drivers will promote landscape-scale ecosystem multifunctionality. Our empirical study confirms these theoretical expectations with empirical data on fourteen different ecosystem functions and services measured in 150 grassland plots across three different regions within Germany. Within the two regions where land-use intensification caused strong trade-offs among ecosystem services, heterogeneity in land-use strongly promoted landscape-scale multifunctionality, while in the other region, where land-use intensification did not cause strong trade-offs among ecosystem services, heterogeneity was not important for landscape multifunctionality.
It is well established that both natural environmental gradients and anthropogenic global change drivers can have contrasting effects on different ecosystem functions and services. Our study therefore demonstrates that maximizing landscape level variation in these factors may help to promote ecosystem multifunctionality in a wide range of ecosystems. Identification of these trade-offs can therefore be an important first step in designing landscape management strategies that seek to maximize multiple ecosystem services at the large spatial scales that are most relevant for human well-being.