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Mapping ecosystem functions at landscape level to find and protect ecosystem service hotspots

Thursday 30 June 2022 – 09:00 – 10:30 AEST

Dr Graham Ashford, Dr Madeleine Page, Sally Chudleigh 

Ecosystem services are foundational to human well-being. To better inform complex decisions and evaluate trade-offs involving environmental and economic policy choices, stakeholders need a holistic understanding of the role of our natural assets and the ecosystem services they provide to our economy and well-being. Conceptually, we understand a great deal about the linkages between different types of ecosystems, the biophysical processes (ecosystem functions) occurring within them (such as soil formation, pollination, gas regulation, and supporting habitats), and the resulting ecosystem services from which we benefit (for example, arable land, food production, a habitable climate, and maintenance of culture and social values). However, translating those generalised conceptual frameworks into a set of practical decision support tools that can inform strategic planning at a regional level and lot level development decisions is challenging. Determining where, and to what extent, different ecosystem functions are being performed in the landscape forms a pre-condition to subsequent efforts to identify ecosystem service hotspots and assess development and climate change threats to them. In this session, the presenters will share the outcome of a collaborative project in the Sunshine Coast region of Australia between the local university and the local government to systematically map and assess ecosystem functions and services in the Sunshine Coast Region of South East Queensland. The presenters will explain the overall method developed and demonstrate an online ecosystem function mapping tool that was developed at the request of Council planning and environment staff to: 1) assess the extent to which areas of high ecosystem function and service provision are protected and identify priority areas for Council to consider for future acquisition, and 2) assess the implications of the main the drivers and pressures on ecosystems and their functions and services in the Region resulting from land use change, population growth, and climate change. “The Dialogue will start with an introduction to key concepts around natural assess, ecosystem functions, and ecosystem services to establish a common level of knowledge among session participants. The session will then look at the rationale for embedding an ecosystem function/service lens on land use planning and decision making at a local government level, including an example of the legislative context compelling Queensland local governments to do so. The presenters will discuss the practical constraints on operationalising ecosystem function and service assessment within local government planning decisions. Session participants will be asked to share experiences with undertaking ecosystem service assessments to inform decision making. The Dialogue will start with an introduction to key concepts around natural assess, ecosystem functions, and ecosystem services to establish a common level of knowledge among session participants. The session will then look at the rationale for embedding an ecosystem function/service lens on land use planning and decision making at a local government level, including an example of the legislative context compelling Queensland local governments to do so. The presenters will discuss the practical constraints on operationalising ecosystem function and service assessment within local government planning decisions. Session participants will be asked to share experiences with undertaking ecosystem service assessments to inform decision making.

The presenters will then explain the method used to map 19 essential ecosystem functions at a landscape level within the Sunshine Coast region and demonstrate an interactive online mapping tool that was created to facilitate identifying ecosystem service hotspots and investigating their future under alternative land use and climate change scenarios.

The demonstration section of the Session will be interactive and allow participants and the presenters to complete several short assessment activities together to reveal in real time the type of knowledge that is gained by applying an ecosystem service lens on land use planning. Specifically, the participants and the presenters will make a series of choices about what ecosystem functions and service to investigate, what data overlays to apply (for example, land tenure, protected areas, infrastructure growth areas, agricultural land etc) and then draw conclusions about the risks to the ongoing provision of ecosystem services from hotspot locations under different scenarios. In short, after an introductory primer, participants will take the wheel of the ecosystem service mapping tools and play the role of local government planners making complex and irreversible decisions about how development should occur within a region of immense natural beauty and fragility. The experience will highlight the practical challenges of managing rapid urban growth in a biosphere setting and provide participant with practical knowledge that can contextualise to their own setting.”

Dr Graham Ashford – Senior Lecturer–Environmental & Natural Resources Economics, University of the Sunshine Coast
Topic: Overview of ecosystem functions and services and how does mapping them support better environmental management. Explanation of method used to map ecosystem functions at a landscape level
Biography: Dr Graham Ashford is an environmental and resource economist with considerable experience designing and managing complex international research and capacity building projects. Examples include: natural asset and ecosystem services valuation in the Sunshine Coast, economic modelling of credit discounting policies on the CDM carbon market; financial analysis of Canarium nut processing in PNG (funder: ACAIR); economic analysis of rainwater harvesting in Madagascar and coastal inundation in Mauritius (European Union); technical and editorial support for North Korea’s State of Environment Report (UNEP); training of North Korean officials in the Clean Development Mechanism (UNEP) and environmental management (Government of China, IDRC); training of Caribbean country experts in the preparation of Second National Communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNDP); assessment of the impacts of trade liberalization, structural adjustment programs and climate change on cocoa producers in Ghana (Danish Department of Foreign Affairs); analysis of the environmental, social and economic impacts of major UK commodity imports (UK-DEFRA); conservation policy advice to the Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Site project (IISD); documentation of Inuit observations of climate change in the Canadian Arctic (Canadian government); assessment of non-timber forest values in traditional indigenous land use areas (Manitoba government); design of micro-finance and watershed development projects in Southern India (UK-DFAIT); and assessment of the contribution of commercial fishing to the Comox Valley economy (CVEDS).

Graham is a Senior Lecturer–Environmental & Natural Resources Economics at the University of the Sunshine Coast, a recipient of a Commonwealth Office of Learning and Teaching Citation, a Senior Fellow in the Higher Education Academy, and a member of the SRI2021 Local Organising Committee.

Sally Chudleigh – Senior Researcher – Geospatial science, University of the Sunshine Coast
Topic
: Demonstration of online ecosystem function mapping tool built for Sunshine Coast Council. Mapping single functions, mapping multiple functions, overlaying other data layers
Biography: Sally Chudleigh has over 25 years’ experience working in professional environmental consulting firms as well as Local and State Government Departments as a senior geographer/ spatial scientist. She has a strong background in spatial modelling across several disciplines working throughout Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East. Sally has worked on numerous landscape modelling projects with a strong focus on biodiversity/ conservation modelling, eco-tourism and scenic amenity modelling. She has developed numerous biodiversity models and mapping layers (including but not limited to wildlife corridors and koala habitat values) for insertion into local government planning schemes and Conservation Management Plans. More recently, she has been involved in developing a number of on-line mapping applications including a citizen science tool called ‘Wildwatch Gympie’, interactive dashboards, and environmental screening report tools.

Dr Madeleine Page – Research Assistant, University of the Sunshine Coast
Topic
: Outcomes of use of the tool to identify ecosystem hotspots, risks from land use pressures and climate change, implications of findings for policy and planning
Biography: Dr Madeleine Page is a Senior Environmental Consultant and early career researcher with over 21 years’ experience working in the environment sector for private industry and government. Madeleine provides technical and specialist environmental advice and has extensive skills in managing the delivery of environmental approvals, environmental reporting and contract documentation, and engaging with stakeholders including state and federal government regulators. She has been a sessional tutor within the Geography teaching department of the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) for over six years having worked in the capacity of Course Co-ordinator, Lecturer and Tutor. Madeleine is also a Research Assistant at USC having been involved with a number of innovative projects including the tracking and monitoring of koalas and the development of an Ecosystem Function mapping tool and subsequent assessment. She recently finished her PhD entitled ‘Local knowledge, communities and disaster management, a case study from southeast Queensland’.