Accounting for Multiple Ecosystem Services in a Simulation of Land-Use Decisions: Does It Reduce Tropical Deforestation?

Glob Chang Biol. 2020 Jan 19. doi: 10.1111/gcb.15003. Online ahead of print.


Conversion of tropical forests is among the primary causes of global environmental change. The loss of their important environmental services has prompted calls to integrate ecosystem services (ES) in addition to socio-economic objectives in decision-making. To test the effect of accounting for both ES and socio-economic objectives in land-use decisions, we develop a new dynamic approach to model deforestation scenarios for tropical mountain forests. We integrate multi-objective optimization of land allocation with an innovative approach to consider uncertainty spaces for each objective. These uncertainty spaces account for potential variability among decision-makers, who may have different expectations about the future. When optimizing only socio-economic objectives, the model continues the past trend in deforestation (1975-2015) in the projected land-use allocation (2015-2070). Based on indicators for biomass production, carbon storage, climate and water regulation, and soil quality, we show that considering multiple ES in addition to the socio-economic objectives has heterogeneous effects on land-use allocation. It saves some natural forest if the natural forest share is below 38%, and can stop deforestation once the natural forest share drops below 10%. For landscapes with high shares of forest (38%-80% in our study), accounting for multiple ES under high uncertainty of their indicators may, however, accelerate deforestation. For such multifunctional landscapes, two main effects prevail: (a) accelerated expansion of diversified non-natural areas to elevate the levels of the indicators and (b) increased landscape diversification to maintain multiple ES, reducing the proportion of natural forest. Only when accounting for vascular plant species richness as an explicit objective in the optimization, deforestation was consistently reduced. Aiming for multifunctional landscapes may therefore conflict with the aim of reducing deforestation, which we can quantify here for the first time. Our findings are relevant for identifying types of landscapes where this conflict may arise and to better align respective policies.

Keywords: Ecuador; biodiversity; ecosystem services; land allocation; landscape restoration; robust optimization.