The role of palaeoecological records in assessing ecosystem services
Jeffers ES., Nogué S., Willis KJ.
© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. Biological conservation and environmental management are increasingly focussing on the preservation and restoration of ecosystem services (i.e. the benefits that humans receive from the natural functioning of healthy ecosystems). Over the past decade there has been a rapid increase in the number of palaeoecological studies that have contributed to conservation of biodiversity and management of ecosystem processes; however, there are relatively few instances in which attempts have been made to estimate the continuity of ecosystem goods and services over time. How resistant is an ecosystem service to environmental perturbations? And, if damaged, how long it does it take an ecosystem service to recover? Both questions are highly relevant to conservation and management of landscapes that are important for ecosystem service provision and require an in-depth understanding of the way ecosystems function in space and time. An understanding of time is particularly relevant for those ecosystem services - be they supporting, provisioning, regulating or cultural services that involve processes that vary over a decadal (or longer) timeframe. Most trees, for example, have generation times > 50 years. Understanding the response of forested ecosystems to environmental perturbations and therefore the continuity of the ecosystem services they provide for human well-being - be it for example, carbon draw-down (regulating service) or timber (provisioning service) - requires datasets that reflect the typical replacement rates in these systems and the lifecycle of processes that alter their trajectories of change. Therefore, data are required that span decadal to millennial time-scales. Very rarely, however, is this information available from neo-ecological datasets and in many ecosystem service assessments, this lack of a temporal record is acknowledged as a significant information gap.This review aims to address this knowledge gap by examining the type and nature of palaeoecological datasets that might be critical to assessing the persistence of ecosystem services across a variety of time scales. Specifically we examine the types of palaeoecological records that can inform on the dynamics of ecosystem processes and services over time - and their response to complex environmental changes. We focus on three key areas: a) exploring the suitability of palaeoecological records for examining variability in space and time of ecosystem processes; b) using palaeoecological data to determine the resilience and persistence of ecosystem services and goods over time in response to drivers of change; and c) how best to translate raw palaeoecological data into the relevant currencies required for ecosystem service assessments.