Ecosystem services: developing sustainable management paradigms based on wetland functions and processes

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In the late nineteenth century and twentieth century, there was considerable interest and activity to develop the United States for agricultural, mining, and many other purposes to improve the quality of human life standards and prosperity. Most of the work to support this development was focused along disciplinary lines with little attention focused on ecosystem service trade-offs or synergisms, especially those that transcended boundaries of scientific disciplines and specific interest groups. Concurrently, human population size has increased substantially and its use of ecosystem services has increased more than five-fold over just the past century. Consequently, the contemporary landscape has been highly modified for human use, leaving behind a fragmented landscape where basic ecosystem functions and processes have been broadly altered. Over this period, climate change also interacted with other anthropogenic effects, resulting in modern environmental problems having a complexity that is without historical precedent. The challenge before the scientific community is to develop new science paradigms that integrate relevant scientific disciplines to properly frame and evaluate modern environmental problems in a systems-type approach to better inform the decision-making process. Wetland science is a relatively new discipline that grew out of the conservation movement of the early twentieth century. In the United States, most of the conservation attention in the earlier days was on wildlife, but a growing human awareness of the importance of the environment led to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969. Concurrently, there was a broadening interest in conservation science, and the scientific study of wetlands gradually gained acceptance as a scientific discipline. Pioneering wetland scientists became formally organized when they formed The Society of Wetland Scientists in 1980 and established a publication outlet to share wetland research findings. In comparison to older and more traditional scientific disciplines, the wetland sciences may be better equipped to tackle today’s complex problems. Since its emergence as a scientific discipline, the study of wetlands has frequently required interdisciplinary and integrated approaches. This interdisciplinary/integrated approach is largely the result of the fact that wetlands cannot be studied in isolation of upland areas that contribute surface and subsurface water, solutes, sediments, and nutrients into wetland basins. However, challenges still remain in thoroughly integrating the wetland sciences with scientific disciplines involved in upland studies, especially those involved with agriculture, development, and other land-conversion activities that influence wetland hydrology, chemistry, and sedimentation. One way to facilitate this integration is to develop an understanding of how human activities affect wetland ecosystem services, especially the trade-offs and synergisms that occur when land-use changes are made. Used in this context, an understanding of the real costs of managing for a particular ecosystem service or groups of services can be determined and quantified in terms of reduced delivery of other services and in overall sustainability of the wetland and the landscapes that support them. In this chapter, we discuss some of the more salient aspects of a few common wetland types to give the reader some background on the diversity of functions that wetlands perform and the specific ecosystem services they provide to society. Wetlands are among the most complex ecosystems on the planet, and it is often difficult to communicate to a diverse public all of the positive services wetlands provide to mankind. Our goal is to help the reader develop an understanding that management options can be approached as societal choices where decisions can be made within a spatial and temporal context to identify trade-offs, synergies, and effects on long-term sustainability of wetland ecosystems. This will be especially relevant as we move into alternate climate futures where our portfolio of management options for mitigating damage to ecosystem function or detrimental cascading effects must be diverse and effective.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Book chapter
Publication Subtype:
Book Chapter
Ecosystem services: developing sustainable management paradigms based on wetland functions and processes
Year Published:
Publisher location:
New York
Contributing office(s):
Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
47 p.
Larger Work Type:
Larger Work Subtype:
Other Government Series
Larger Work Title:
Wetland Techniques
First page:
Last page:
United States