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Insights and Opportunities Offered by a Rapid Ecosystem Service Assessment in Promoting a Conservation Agenda in an Urban Biodiversity Hotspot

Patrick J O’Farrell, Natural Resources and the Environment, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
Pippin M. L. Anderson, African Centre for Cities, Environmental and Geographical Science Department, University of Cape Town, South Africa
David C Le Maitre, Natural Resource and the Environment, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Patricia M Holmes, Biodiversity Management Branch, Environmental Resource Management Department, City of Cape Town, South Africa


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Regional and global scale ecosystem service assessments have demonstrated the socioeconomic value of protecting biodiversity and have been integrated into associated policy. Local government decision makers are still unsure of the applicability, return on investment, and usefulness of these assessments in aiding their decision making. Cape Town, a developing city in a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot, has numerous competing land uses. City managers, with a tightly constrained budget, requested an exploratory study on the links between ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation within this municipal area. We set out to develop and test a simple and rapid ecosystem service assessment method aimed at determining the contribution natural vegetation remnants make to ecosystem service provision. We took selected services, identified in conjunction with city managers, and assessed these in two ways. First we used an area weighted approach to attribute services to vegetation types and assessed how these had changed through time and into the future given development needs. Second, we did a regulatory and cultural service remnant distance analysis to better understand proximity effects and linkages. Provisioning services were found to have been most severely affected through vegetation transformation. Regulatory services have been similarly affected, and these losses are more significant because regulatory services can only function in situ and cannot be outsourced in the way provisioning services can. The most significant losses were in coastal zone protection and flood mitigation services, both of which will be placed under even greater pressure given the predicted changes in climatic regimes. The role of remnant vegetation in regulating and cultural services was shown to be a significant additional consideration in making the case for conservation in the city. Our rapid assessment approach does not allow for nuanced and individual understanding of the trade-offs presented by individual remnant patches, but is particularly strong in quickly identifying issues, key focus areas, and opportunities provided by this research direction, and thereby serving to facilitate and drive constructive engagement between ecosystem service experts and city planners.

Key words

Cape Town; ecosystem service tool; historical change; scenario modeling; scoping; urban ecology

Copyright © 2012 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