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

Belinda Reyers, Natural Resources and the Environment, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
Patrick J. O’Farrell, Natural Resources and the Environment, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
Richard M. Cowling, Department of Botany, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Benis N. Egoh, Centre for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University
David C. Le Maitre, Natural Resources and the Environment, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
Jan H. J. Vlok, Regalis Environmental Services


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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.

Key words

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

Copyright © 2009 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087