In natural systems, processes such as the transport of material and energy, flows of water, and species migration and dispersal often couple distant locations. For example, in ecoclimate teleconnections, vegetation change in one place affects not only the local microclimate, but also vegetation in a distal location. Within complex, coupled natural-human (CNH) systems, the drivers of environmental change in one location can have profound effects on ecosystem services in distant locations. While scholars recognize the phenomena of spatial linkages, or telecouplings, most studies of CNH systems have treated distal forces as exogenous variables. The telecoupling framework articulated by Liu et al. (2013) constitutes an important conceptual framework to understand interactions in CNH systems across space. However, to extend this framework to an understanding of how ecoclimate teleconnections link natural and human processes across space requires the ability to identify and quantify telecouplings.
To overcome this hurdle, we suggest operational tools to measure the flow and value of telecoupled ecosystem service benefits in systems with ecoclimate teleconnections. The tools are based on the spatial subsidies approach that was developed to assess telecoupling in the CNH systems of migratory species. The approach is called spatial subsidies because people in areas where a migratory species provides the most ecosystem service benefits may in effect be subsidized by the habitat conservation efforts of people in the areas of most critical habitat. Similarly, actions to conserve forests and vegetation in one location may subsidize ecosystem service users in other locations through ecoclimate teleconnections. Here, we consider telecouplings related to forest dieback and suggest ways to quantify the impact of forest dieback in one location on ecosystem services and human well-being in other locations.