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Ecosystem Services Version 3.0: Valuation to Governance in Action


Synopsis: A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES) Conference is a partnership between federal and state agencies, academia and the private sector including business and non-profit organizations. Meeting biennially, the conference is the premier opportunity for practitioners and researchers to share the results of their work, and expand the quality of ecosystem services applications in the US and internationally. The conference has come to be the leading event for break-through science and research on ecosystem services. The conference is well attended by federal scientists – and is sponsored in part by the US EPA, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and US Geological Survey. These partner agencies bring both their own science to share, as well as learn from the new advances in academia such as the results presented by the Portland State University IGERT program.

Process: Five ESUR-IGERT students collaborated as a cohort to create a session proposal for the ACES conference and presented at the conference in December 2012. Throughout the 2012 Spring Term, the ESUR-IGERT students worked as a cohesive cohort through a student-initiated reading and conference course. With the guidance of a core IGERT faculty member the students refined and described the cohort’s emerging vision of ecosystem services application. The students ascertained their focus as a group was on ecosystem services in governance and public involvement, which they did not see widely discussed in the literature. The ACES conference was the ideal place for the students to present their innovative conception and use of the ecosystem services framework to a diverse group of private and public consultants, decision-makers, and researchers. The ESUR-IGERT program facilitated the students’ growth as a cohesive cohort while allowing the students to form their own space to develop unique ideas and emerging concepts that went beyond the curriculum. Through program support, the students collaborated, refined, presented, networked, and received feedback from a wide variety of ecosystem services-focused practitioners.

Product: The products emerging from the students’ preparation and participation in the ACES conference are many. Each conference presentation was undertaken as an early piece of the students’ proposed dissertation research, and as such, the conference feedback has been invaluable for fleshing out the beginning of dissertation chapters and publishable papers. Similarly, the networking opportunities that the students were able to engage in by showcasing their early research concepts have led to additional interdisciplinary collaboration on papers and conference presentations that will continue to stretch far into the students’ future careers. Having the opportunity to engage with researchers and practitioners at the forefront of integrative ecosystem services science this early in the ESUR-IGERT program has truly shaped the research trajectory these students are taking. Additionally, participation in the ACES conference was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the innovative work that the PSU ESUR-IGERT students and faculty are engaged in.

Conclusion: The research presented by IGERT students in the Ecosystem Services 3.0 session at the ACES conference proposed a shift in the application of the ecosystem services framework towards governance and public involvement. While past practice and theory within the ecosystem services research community has sought to account for the full range of benefits humans derive from ecosystems and estimate their values to society, those efforts have not resulted in a full accounting of the suite of benefits provided by ecosystems. The ESUR-IGERT program has facilitated a workspace for interdisciplinary inquiry into ecosystem services application and policy where both the social and natural sciences are equally represented and integrated. This unique research context has resulted in collaborations between student researchers across disciplinary paradigms. Students identified and communicated new avenues of inquiry into ecosystem services that recognize the significance of traditional ecological knowledge, public-private partnerships and conflict management within conservation efforts. The results of this research demonstrate how the ecosystem services framework can advance science and facilitate new conservation problem-solving in urban, rural, and marine contexts by accounting for a broad suite of tangible and intangible values.

Address Goals

Strategic Goals: Learning & Discovery – Active participation in the ACES Conference has established the ESUR-IGERT program at PSU as a leader in ecosystem services research and training. By joining the ecosystem services conversation via conference presentations, subsequent collaborative research stemming from professional relationships initiated at the conference, and the creation of novel connections between and within disciplines for innovative engagement of ecosystem services concepts, the students are well on their way to advancing the frontiers of interdisciplinary knowledge that will foster transformational solutions. The diversity of organizations, including non-profits, government agencies, and private business, allowed students the opportunity to engage with, and influence, a broad range of constituents. The ESUR-IGERT students’ presentations opened up new areas of inquiry within the field of ecosystem services, and, by taking advantage of the opportunity to present in a diverse forum, the students were able to broadcast their ideas as well as refine them through feedback.