Ecosystem Services

Definition

In order to understand the term ecosystem services we will first define an ecosystem as: all of the plants, animals, microorganisms and environmental variables in a specific physical area. In other words: the biotic (living) and abiotic (inanimate) components of a given area, as well as the interactions and linkages between them. The components of an ecosystem exist within a complex web of interactions including energy flow and nutrient cycling. Examples of ecosystems include rainforests, woodlands, coral reefs, lakes, grasslands and deserts.
 
Ecosystem services, as defined in the Israel National Ecosystem Assessment (I-NEA) are the ecosystem processes and functions that are important for the existence and wellbeing of mankind.
A number of different types of ecosystem services are commonly defined:
  • Provisioning services, which provide material products, such as water, building materials etc.
  • Cultural services, such as landscape beauty, leisure and tourism, heritage, opportunities for education and research etc.
  • Regulating services, such as climate regulation, flood prevention, erosion prevention, pollination etc.
 
The ecosystem services approach aims to estimate the benefit gained by mankind from our natural environment, as a way of expressing and quantifying the importance of healthy and functioning ecosystems and biodiversity in different ecosystems. To this end, a measurable value is applied to each of the services that ecosystems provide to mankind.
 
In recent years scientists, as well as decision makers who are active in open landscape management, have attached increasing importance to ecosystem services, due to heightened awareness of the dependence of social systems on ecosystems, and of the feedbacks between them. 
 
For further reading about pollination as an example of an important ecosystem service, click here.
 

The Israel National Ecosystem Assessment 

At the end of 2012 the Board of HaMaarag decided to develop and conduct a National Ecosystem Assessment.
An “ecosystem assessment” is a project format that was first developed by an international and interdisciplinary group of scientists in the fields of natural and social sciences, under the name Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The process summarized current knowledge on the state of, and trends within, ecosystems and the services they provide to mankind, on a global scale. Israel's ecosystem  assessment process does not aim to produce new primary knowledge, but rather to collect and synthesize existing knowledge, and to present information relevant for decision-making, planning and policy formulation regarding a publicly significant issue: the importance of the services that Israeli society receives from open landscapes, and quantification of their value.
 
The decision of HaMaarag to carry out a national ecosystem assessment project, which is called “Ecosystems and Human Wellbeing – A National Assessment” in Hebrew, stems from the recognition that the continuing existence and prosperity of human society depends on functioning ecosystems and the services they provide us. HaMaarag is also well aware of the significance of efficient and effective communication between open landscape managers and decision makers and the wider community when describing the importance and value (ecological, economic and cultural) of open landscapes, so that these issues will be taken into account during decision making. The first critical step in knowledge-based communication in this field is assessing and presenting the state of, and trends in, Israel’s ecosystems and the services they provide.
 

Goals of the I-NEA

The objectives guiding the project are:
  • To increase awareness of the multifaceted value of nature and our dependence on functioning ecosystems
  • To assist managers, decision- and policy-makers in incorporating the value of ecosystem services and the biodiversity on which their provision depends into planning processes, land management and policy
     

Project Structure

Organizational Structure

 
 
Project Chairmen: Prof. Uriel Safriel and Prof. Eran Feitelson from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem act as chairmen and provide continual professional guidance
 
Project management and coordination: Alon Lotan, project coordinator for HaMaarag
 
Execution: Scientists and experts from the range of relevant fields – natural and social sciences and economics – will gather and analyze the information and write the different chapters, each team according to its field of expertise. The assessment procedure will include collection and synthesis of existing knowledge to present the most comprehensive evaluation of the current situation that is relevant to decision making, planning and policy formulation. Two lead authors were appointed for each chapter. Their role was to recruit additional authors from fields relevant to their chapter and to coordinate the assessment.
 
Assessment Council: The project is led and guided by a council, comprising representatives of relevant stakeholders in the project and its outcomes.
 
Target audience: Decision makers, planners and managers whose work relates to open landscapes, development, resource use and management and nature conservation.
 
The Council's role in the I-NEA: The council represents the range of stakeholders for whom the ecosystem assessment has relevance to their particular field. The role of the council is to provide feedback and direction to the project’s management team regarding the structure and content of the project and its execution, in order to generate outcomes that are relevant and clear to the defined target audiences, of which the council members themselves are representatives. The council members, as representatives of the project's target audiences, will provide diverse viewpoints to highlight the aspects that they believe should be focused on during the assessment procedure, as well as feedback on the content of the various chapters in the final reports. As such, council members will be involved in the project development process from its initiation and during its execution; when the project ends they will be transformed from potential customers to actual customers. Interested council members will be able to take a more active role in formulating the work plan and monitoring its execution, and are welcome to contribute to financing the project, especially if there are issues or fields that they believe merit more in-depth treatment. In addition, parties that are council members will be able to assist in providing relevant data to the assessment process if those data are in their possession, and to assist in dissemination and implementation of the project outcomes once they are published (expected completion date: late 2014).
 

The project's end product: A detailed report

The main outcome of this project is a report consisting of 16 chapters that will present the state of, and trends in, the following topics:
  • The different services obtained from each of the ecosystems in Israel
  • The biodiversity involved in providing those services
  • Drivers of change affecting the provision of services
 
Similarly, assessment outcomes will include
• Quantification of the contribution of ecosystem services to human wellbeing (Further details on quantification)
• Future scenarios – examining alternatives for changes in the provision of services in the future (Further details on future scenarios and responses).
 
In addition, the assessment will contribute to identifying gaps in knowledge and information, and to creating a baseline for monitoring changes in provision of ecosystem services in the future.
 
The assessment will process information on two levels:
1. Evaluating the state of, and trends in, ecosystems in Israel, and the services provided by each ecosystem.
2. Evaluating the state of, and trends in, different services at a national level.
 
Prior to publication, the project report will undergo a meticulous review process: Prof. Moti Shechter, who has been involved in the project from its planning stages, was appointed as editor of the review process. His role will be to appoint reviewers for the different chapters. Chapter drafts will undergo meticulous scientific review accompanied by close monitoring of responses to the reviewers’ comments. Later drafts of the different chapters will be sent to members of the council for comments and direct feedback towards the end of the writing period.
 

Timetable

The project comprises three stages:
  1. Planning: September 2012 – July 2013
  2. Execution:  August 2013 – March 2016

  3. Implementation: Planning of this phase commenced in parallel to the planning stage and will continue throughout the duration of the project; this final phase of implementation and promotion of the final report will occur for the most part after its publication.
 

Stage 1: Planning

The planning stage focused simultaneously on three components that form the basis for carrying out the next stage:
1. Developing the assessment's conceptual framework
2. Assembling the assessment council
 

Stage 2: Execution

This stage begins with the collection of data and information for each chapter and includes analysis and synthesis of the data and information from various sources, as well as the actual writing of the different chapters. The expected date of completion of the advanced draft: September 2014.
 

Stage 3: Implementation

Implementation and presentation of the project outcomes are essential to its success, since the project’s aim will not be realized if no use is made of the assessment report. Implementation of the information and insights arising from the ecosystem services approach began at the planning stage, during recruitment of council members and assembly of the assessment team; these processes increased awareness of this project in particular, and of ecosystem services in general, among the target audiences and the scientific community.
In order to achieve effective implementation and accessibility of the project outcomes, the assessment management team will assemble an implementation planning committee by September 2013, whose role will be to develop a specific work plan for making the assessment's products accessible throughout the duration of the project and following its completion. The committee will comprise representatives from the council and the assessment team, and additional experts in this field.
 

Links for further reading