Ecosystem Services, Land-Cover Change, and Stakeholders: Finding a Sustainable Foothold for a Semiarid Biodiversity Hotspot

Publication Type  Journal Article
Authors  Reyers, B.; O’Farrell, P. J.; Cowling, R. M.; Egoh, B. N.; Le Maitre, D. C.; Vlok, J. H. J.
Year  2009
Name of Journal  Ecology and Society
Volume  14
Number  1
Pages  38

Land-cover change has been identified as one of the most important drivers of change in
ecosystems and their services. However, information on the consequences of land cover change for
ecosystem services and human well-being at local scales is largely absent. Where information does exist,
the traditional methods used to collate and communicate this information represent a significant obstacle
to sustainable ecosystem management. Embedding science in a social process and solving problems together
with stakeholders are necessary elements in ensuring that new knowledge results in desired actions, behavior
changes, and decisions. We have attempted to address this identified information gap, as well as the way
information is gathered, by quantifying the local-scale consequences of land-cover change for ecosystem
services in the Little Karoo region, a semiarid biodiversity hotspot in South Africa. Our work is part of a
stakeholder-engaged process that aims to answer questions inspired by the beneficiaries and managers of
ecosystem services. We mapped and quantified the potential supply of, and changes in, five ecosystem
services: production of forage, carbon storage, erosion control, water flow regulation, and tourism. Our
results demonstrated substantial (20%–50%) declines across ecosystem services as a result of land-cover
change in the Little Karoo. We linked these changes in land-cover to the political and land-use history of
the region. We found that the natural features that deliver the Little Karoo’s ecosystem services, similar to
other semiarid regions, are not being managed in a way that recognizes their constraints and vulnerabilities.
There is a resulting decline in ecosystem services, leading to an increase in unemployment and vulnerability
to shocks, and narrowing future options. We have proposed a way forward for the region that includes
immediate action and restoration, mechanisms to fund this action, the development of future economic
activity including tourism and carbon markets, and new ways that the science–stakeholder partnership can
foster these changes. Although we acknowledge the radical shifts required, we have highlighted the
opportunities provided by the resilience and adaptation potential of semiarid regions, their biodiversity,
and their inhabitants.

Keywords  carbon; grazing; human well-being; land degradation; ostriches; tourism; trade-offs; water
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