Project groups

RESEARCH ACTIVITY 9 | ECOSYSTEM SERVICES AND CLIMATE

Involved project leaders:
ISOE: D. Hummel, T. Jahn, A. Lux, E. Schramm. – BiK-F: T. Hickler, J. Krohmer, L. Loft, U. Zajonz. – GU: B. Blättel-Mink, K. Hahn. – SGN: V. Mosbrugger.

Biodiversity plays a key role in supporting and producing ecosystem services (ESS), as well as in their regulation. ESS are defined as the benefits people obtain from ecosystem functions, although these benefits goes beyond material welfare and affect societal and individual capacities. A major challenge for research is the fact that climate change puts the productive relations between biodiversity and ESS at risk – with unknown consequences. There is a need for knowledge that facilitates transformations towards sustainable strategies in conservation and management of ecosystems, as shown by international initiatives,such as Future Earth or the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IBPES). Therefore,we not only need to improve our understandingof how biodiversity and ESS are used, perceived and valued by humans, their societies, economies and cultures, but we also need to develop an understanding of the intertwined natural and social dynamics. Our recent research concentrated on knowledge transfer and social-ecological dimensions of BiK-F and revealed that veryfew approaches for suchintegrative research have been developed and that special capacities are needed for their implementation. In addressing this gap, we developed a conceptual research framework that relies on the concept of social-ecological systems (SES), which we implemented for analyzing the complex interactions between nature and society. We view ESS as an integral part of SES, as they describe the delivery of natural goods to society, while management practices and their (un-)intended effects describe the human impacts on ecosystems. Research in Ecosystem Services is a comparatively young development at Senckenberg and has gained momentum through the establishment of BiK-F. At present, key intellectual capacity lies with ISOE, the Institute for Social-Ecological Research, one of the signing partners of the LOEWE BiK-F agreement. Since we are convinced that the social-ecological consequences of biodiversity change will be a key field in the future, Senckenberg and ISOE want to collectively address key questions that neither institution can tackle individually.
The work program within RA 9 Ecosystem Services and Climate addresses the effects of climate-driven biodiversity change on human well-beingin the conceptual frame of SES. We pursue three key questions:

1. How can concepts of ecosystem services and risk analysis be applied as a transdisciplinary framework for analyzing the impacts of climate-driven biodiversity change on the transformation of social-ecological systems?
The unique characteristic of RA 9 is that it fosters a social-ecological perspective on climate-driven biodiversity change. Integrating the societal perspective of the effects of changes in delivering and using ESS within the framework of SES allows us to relate the knowledgegained from natural sciences to knowledge from social sciences, as well as relating scientific to non-scientific expertise. In this manner, the impact of climate change on biodiversity dynamics in terms of species’ geographic ranges, ecological communities and ecosystem functions can be linked to behavior, use patterns and preferences of societal actors. This is complemented with “risk” as a heuristic approach for assessingthe impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ESS on the one hand, and developing coping strategies on the other. The concepts of ESS and risk are being developed in order to understand, evaluate and shape transformations in SES. A common thread within this scope will be to investigate the potential for developing climate resilience in SES. This should foster the integration of both biodiversity and climate dynamics into the development of management options.

2. Which recommendations for policies and practice can be developed to support a sustainable management of ecosystems?
In RA 9, applied research provides recommendations for policies and practice in support of sustainable management of biodiversity delivering ESS. It is our view that climate-induced changes of ESS imply severe and unforeseeable risks, and in some cases also opportunities. Interventions into SES dynamics, e.g., with the aim to increase their resilience and adaptivity to biodiversity and climate change, can thus be regarded as a form of risk management. This risk-related perspective is novel in biodiversity research. It is innovative, since it allows researchers to concentrate on climate-induced biodiversity changes in a problem-oriented manner. It is further compatible not only with requirements of political actors, but also other key actors of the climate debate, such as reinsurance companies.

3. How can the identified transfer instruments be improved and optimized to support societal actors regarding the use and conservation of biodiversity?
The integrative approaches in RA 4.9 require a transdisciplinary dialog on biodiversity and ESS, the effects of human interventions on ecosystems, and the role of climate change. Corresponding research is located on the boundaries between different scientific disciplines and between science and society (inter- and transdisciplinarity). Therefore, knowledge transfer between the sciences and between science and society is needed, and science-policy interfaces, such as IPBES, or thematic oriented stakeholder dialogs represent existing transfer instruments. Ourspecific target is to advance the scientific foundations and test methods for a knowledge transfer that not only transmits results but also allows mutual learning and networking, as well as developing decision-making bases and application-oriented products.
RA 9 focuses on the societal demand for ESS. From this point of view, we contribute to internal and external collaborations. We closely cooperate with RA 7 Biodiversity Dynamics and Climate,which emphasizes the “supply” inaddressing the effects of climate change on ecological and ecosystem functions and the potentially associated ESS. An important area of cooperation is the support of our efforts in developing concepts and tools for translating model output concerning ecosystem functions into ESS. Further cooperation exists with RA 8 Adaptation and Climate with respect to stressors influencing biodiversity, and thus ESS. The focus of cooperation lies on relating data and empirical results about the influences of stressors to risk management options. With regard to the scientific foundations and methods of knowledge transfer, RA 9 has a collaborative relation with the activities within 4.13 Science and Society. In this way, collaboration with different RAs are synergistic and rely on integrating data and results from natural sciences into social-ecological research. For conducting innovative projects, interdisciplinary methods for integration are used that refer back to (re-)defining joint research questions, using boundary objects like ESS and SES, joint modeling approaches and other methods for mutual learning (Bergmann et al. 2012). The essential expertise in inter- and transdisciplinary methods is provided by the partner ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research. ISOE’s participation allows the transfer of methodological and conceptual knowledge from sustainability sciences to innovative biodiversity research.