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In 2001, more than 1,300 scientists, economists, business professionals, and other experts from 95 countries began an analysis of ecosystems worldwide. Their findings, published in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005, provide an in-depth look at the state of ecosystems and the services they provide. Ecosystem services are the benefits humans receive from ecosystems such as food, erosion control, water quantity and quality, and flood protection.
According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 60% (15 out of 24 surveyed) of the world’s ecosystem services have been degraded over the past 50 years. These trends matter because the well-being
of society depends on functioning ecosystems. Humans impact ecosystems through actions such as agriculture and development. We also rely on functioning ecosystems for benefits from flood control to pollination, pest control, and recreation. Businesses and cities rely on water quality improvements by wetlands, farmers depend on pollination services and nutrient cycling, and the global community relies on climate regulation.
Since many ecosystem services are received for free, we often take them for granted until the ecosystem is degraded and the services are declining or at risk. Decision-makers and institutions need to develop creative ways of protecting ecosystem services, including incentives and new regulatory structures.
The López-Hoffman lab is researching new approaches to improve natural resource policy and governance. They focus on protecting and adding value to ecosystem services through projects such as determining how land-use planning should consider ecosystem services, how ecosystem services can be better integrated in US environmental policies such as NEPA, and completing foundational work to create payments for ecosystem servi ces for transborder systems.
When neighboring countries share ecosystems, they also share ecosystem services. Many species migrate regularly across international borders, but those borders rarely coincide with ecological boundaries. Political borders often cross ecosystems and watersheds. As a novel approach, we have adapted the MA framework to transborder ecosystem services (see figure), demonstrating how drivers in one country can affect ecosystems and ecosystem services in the other country, and how stakeholders can intervene across international borders.
Much of the lab’s research focuses on transborder conservation challenges between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The ultimate goal of this research is to contribute to the development of policies for managing transboundary ecosystems and ecosystem services.