Socio-ecological systems approaches to environmental conservation and management are emerging that recognize both human impact and dependencies on environmental condition and quality. Current dialogue around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) emphasizes the global and multi-dimensional nature of sustainability and is paving the way for systems-based approaches to these challenges. In light of this, policy-makers are increasingly tasked with fostering improved multifunctionality within landscapes to meet a myriad of environmental and social goals. To operationalize an SES approach in policy planning requires improving our capacity to articulate the impact of conservation and development interventions on both ecosystem change and human well-being across landscapes. Yet, the integrated nature of and interaction between multiple planning goals are challenging to assess without similarly integrated assessment tools. Here, we present an integrated modelling toolkit designed to quantify and illustrate trade-offs and synergies across ecosystem services for different land use and management scenarios under multi-objective goal setting.
We demonstrate the structure and operationalization of the ‘Mapping Ecosystem Services to Human well-being’ (MESH) toolkit and its functioning using an existing management intervention under consideration by the Volta Basin Authority in West Africa. MESH supports an integrative modeling approach by i) including data-acquisition and processing tools directly into the platform, ii) evaluating multiple ecosystem service production function models within a flexible plugin framework, and iii) using a marginal ecosystem service ranking across objectives to identify ‘multifunctional’ intervention sites. The toolkit was designed in consultation with multi-sector regional and national-level stakeholders from the Nile and Volta basins tasked with making investment and intervention decisions that substantially alter landscapes in each basin. Our results compare planning outcomes that prioritize for individual policy objectives versus integrated multi-objective planning approach to landscape management for ecological protection and restoration. We find that using multi-objective planning can achieve greater coherence and synergy in ecosystem service outcomes than single objective approaches.