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ECU-MAES: A National Ecosystem Services Assessment and Mapping for the status and future development of ecosystem services and biodiversity – a fast track study in Ecuador

Considering that many ecosystems of Ecuador are unique, their loss poses significant impacts for biodiversity conservation across the global level and for the well-being of the persons and communities through the provision, regulation, and support of ecosystem services. From the conservation point of view, solely urgent and effective conservation actions may allow the recovery of threatened ecosystems services in this biodiversity hotspot. Our research collaboration on mapping and assessing ecosystem services in Ecuador (ECU-MAES) is connected to the most recent published reports from the IPBES. “The Americas” formed an own assessment part that subsequently needs now to be broken down to a national level information for adjusting governance instruments to keep biodiversity and particularly maintain or increase the level of ecosystem services provision to the civil population. With its three regions, Amazon, Andes and Pacific Coast, Ecuador covers a huge and world-wide important range of ecosystems among which some of them count to fragile ecosystems (pàramo and dry forest) and globally most threatened systems (Amazon forest). In-depth knowledge about their local and globally relevant ecosystem services and existing and future areas with high risk of loss are therefore an uppermost aim to contribute to biodiversity conservation. Even more, particularly the Amazonian region counts to those regions with relevance for the global climate regulation so that the world-wide interest is huge in keeping these systems, but have also a look at locally available services from them to ensure sustainable management instead of outselling to industrial companies.

ECU-MAES is conceived as a fast track study, using existing indicators from forest inventory, annexes and references provided through the IPBES reports, remote sensing data, local and expert knowledge and previous projects on the state of art of naturalness, degradation and fragmentation of the different ecosystem types in Ecuador (Figure 1). Our main interest is to identify indicators that are specific to the three regions in Ecuador, the Amazon area, the Andean and the Coastal area with their different types of ecosystems. Complementarily to available quantitative (indicator, model or assessment based) information we will fill knowledge gaps on rarely analyzed ecosystems or on services for which no sufficient data base is available through expert knowledge and additional local knowledge gathered in form of workshops and surveys using a Delphi approach and additional inquiry on the level of confidence to develop a completed assessment basis. This assessment information will be used to map ecosystem services by support of the software platform GISCAME (Fürst et al. 2010 a, b), which will be adjusted to the Ecuadorian context. GISCAME combines GIS and Cellular Automaton modules with multi-criteria analyses (ibid.). Changes due to climate change and its known impacts on capacities of ecosystems to provide particularly provisioning and regulating services will be integrated in the fast track assessment. Also trade-offs between various ecosystem services and biodiversity will be assessed. GISCAME will deliver ecosystem service capacity maps, balances of all ecosystem services and a landscape metrics based analysis of the state of art of fragmentation and / or connectivity of the forests as indication for potential threats for biodiversity through lost corridors and stepping stones. Stakeholder workshops will support to identify uncertainties and realistic representation of potential impacts. Since the software platform is ready and already used in Chile with relatively similar research objectives, the fast track study is feasible. The tasks for the 18 months’ duration will mainly consist in extracting, synthesizing and processing the assessment information from heterogeneous data sources. The output in form of a first national overview on ecosystem services in their landscape context will be very important to detect areas with particularly high but threatened potentials of ecosystem services provision for which conservation and restoration measures are indispensable and areas of low ecosystem services potentials where measures should be taken to improve ecosystem services provision for local livelihoods. The fast track study will deliver valuable insights for research and policy making on national and international level (in the frame of IPBES).