Ecosystem services are the benefits that people receive from nature. According to the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), these benefits include "...provisioning services such as food, water, timber, and fiber; regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling."
The Forest Ecosystem Services Toolkit (FEST) is an effort to measure the many benefits that forested watersheds provide society, and to better understand how those benefits may change over time and in response to environmental and societal changes. In FEST, we have developed new methods for quantifying ecosystem services that draw on decades of research, monitoring and modeling of forest watersheds at long-term experimental research sites in northeastern North America. By comparing before and after forest harvests, we are using FEST to study relationships between management practices and changes in ecosystem services in northern hardwood forests.
In the Northern Forest, communities rely on both the goods generated by working forests and the ecosystem services of surrounding forest watersheds. The regulating ecosystem services of forested watersheds are essential for maintaining healthy water, air, soil and habitats, sequestering greenhouse gases, and for supporting production of market goods (timber, fiber and fuel).
Regulating and supporting services involving water, air, and soil are critically important things to measure from both basic and applied points of view. There is a pressing societal need to measure how, when, and where dynamic ecosystem processes create either tangible benefits - or less desirable outcomes - for society. Conversely, there is a need to evaluate when societal demand for services exceeds or misfits the functional capacity of extant ecosystems (or landscapes). For example, in a changing climate, the capacity for ecosystems and landscapes to moderate weather extremes, such as flood mitigation by forests and wetlands, has become a pressing issue.
Forest management practices and land use decisions strongly influence how these ecosystem services are provided to society. Historically, forest management has focused on production of market goods while compromising the regulating services that contribute directly and indirectly to human well-being. Best management practices and forest certification standards have been developed to address some of these potential tradeoffs.
In short, ecological data - measured or simulated - is evaluated based on societal preferences using a variety of numerical techniques, including statistical models. We draw upon long-term experimental research and ecological monitoring, as well as information about local, regional, and global beneficiaries, to form the FEST knowledge base. Once services are measured, the experimental design of long-term research sites - where entire ecosystems are manipulated and compared to reference ecosystems - is used to ask questions about the impacts of multiple types of change on ecosystem services.
FEST tools allow the user to quantify services at long-term research (LTER) sites, evaluate relationships among services over time and in response to forest management (land use), climate forcing, and atmospheric deposition. Case studies are provided to explore responses to external forcing, tradeoffs among multiple services, and alternative demand-side thresholds used to analyze the ecological datasets.
FEST is a collaboration among the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF), the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, the Gund Institute of Ecological Economics (at the University of Vermont),the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, the Center for Environmental Systems Engineering (CESE) at Syracuse University, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Cazenovia College, E&S Environmental Chemistry, the Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation, and Environment Canada. Funding has been provided by the US Forest Service Northeastern States Research Cooperative (NSRC) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
Resources pages include more information on the FEST project, including information on the project team and research sites, more detailed methodology, and some interesting links. Explore!