OOS 1-7 - Human diversity and urbanization in South Africa: Democratizing ecosystem service assessments for sustainable development

Monday, August 7, 2017: 3:40 PM
Portland Blrm 254, Oregon Convention Center
Melissa R. McHale1, Daniel L. Childers2, Steward T. A. Pickett3, Mary L. Cadenasso4, Scott Beck1, David N Bunn5, Liesel Ebersohn6, Wayne Twine7 and Louise Swemmer8, (1)Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, (2)School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, (3)Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY, (4)Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, (5)Natural Resource Ecology Lab, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, (6)Faculty of Education, University of Pretoria, South Africa, (7)Animal, Plant, and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, (8)South African National Parks, South Africa

The concept of ecosystem services has emerged as a powerful tool for giving expression to the wide range of direct and indirect benefits that humans derive from nature. Despite the importance of the ecosystem services concept, its current applications have been challenged on a number of fronts. Due to the simplistic assumptions that emphasize the economic evaluation of ecosystem services and erroneous deductions that land use is an indicator of services provided to people, the ecosystem services framework has arguably failed to become an ideal instrument for linking human and natural systems in planning and policy. Perhaps the most troubling issue to date is that many ecosystem services assessments fail to take into account the values, needs, and aspirations of many affected human communities. Thus, they are a result of an undemocratic process that reinforces power asymmetries in society, often resulting in inequitable outcomes in their application at the local scale.


We present a new framework for assessing ecosystem services that is inclusive of a broad range of stakeholders’ values and results in actual quantification of social and ecological processes. We evaluate how a democratized process of assessing ecosystem services will produce a more nuanced representation of diverse values in society and capture heterogeneity in ecosystem structure and function. Finally, we demonstrate how this framework could be operationalized in communities bordering one of the largest conservation areas in the world, Kruger National Park. This region is internationally recognized as biodiversity hotspot, and is officially designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a biosphere reserve. In this place where biodiversity, cultural diversity, and human diversity are all impacted by increasing urbanization, we show how accounting for heterogeneity in human dominated landscapes can transform current observations of biodiversity and the distribution of ecosystem services.