Ecosystem services are the benefits that people receive from nature. According to the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), these benefits include "...provisioning services such as food, water, timber, and fiber; regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling."
The Forest Ecosystem Services Toolkit (FEST) is an effort to measure the many benefits that forested watersheds provide society, and to better understand how those benefits may change over time and in response to environmental and societal changes. In FEST, we have developed new methods for quantifying ecosystem services that draw on decades of research, monitoring and modeling of forest watersheds at long-term experimental research sites in northeastern North America. By comparing before and after forest harvests, we are using FEST to study relationships between management practices and changes in ecosystem services in northern hardwood forests.
In the Northern Forest, communities rely on both the goods generated by working forests and the ecosystem services of surrounding forest watersheds. The regulating ecosystem services of forested watersheds are essential for maintaining healthy water, air, soil and habitats, sequestering greenhouse gases, and for supporting production of market goods (timber, fiber and fuel).
Regulating and supporting services involving water, air, and soil are critically important things to measure from both basic and applied points of view. There is a pressing societal need to measure how, when, and where dynamic ecosystem processes create either tangible benefits - or less desirable outcomes - for society. Conversely, there is a need to evaluate when societal demand for services exceeds or misfits the functional capacity of extant ecosystems (or landscapes). For example, in a changing climate, the capacity for ecosystems and landscapes to moderate weather extremes, such as flood mitigation by forests and wetlands, has become a pressing issue.
Forest management practices and land use decisions strongly influence how these ecosystem services are provided to society. Historically, forest management has focused on production of market goods while compromising the regulating services that contribute directly and indirectly to human well-being. Best management practices and forest certification standards have been developed to address some of these potential tradeoffs.
In short, ecological data - measured or simulated - is evaluated based on societal preferences using a variety of numerical techniques, including statistical models. We draw upon long-term experimental research and ecological monitoring, as well as information about local, regional, and global beneficiaries, to form the FEST knowledge base. Once services are measured, the experimental design of long-term research sites - where entire ecosystems are manipulated and compared to reference ecosystems - is used to ask questions about the impacts of multiple types of change on ecosystem services.
FEST tools allow the user to quantify services at long-term research (LTER) sites, evaluate relationships among services over time and in response to forest management (land use), climate forcing, and atmospheric deposition. Case studies are provided to explore responses to external forcing, tradeoffs among multiple services, and alternative demand-side thresholds used to analyze the ecological datasets.
Water quality regulation is defined as the capacity of a forested ecosystem to maintain the concentrations of a number of pollutants (nitrate, chloride, sodium, sulfate) as well as pH levels within drinking water standards. An additional regulating service is the ability of forested ecosystems to reduce the nutrient pollution entering streams, mitigating eutrophication of waterbodies and positively impacting fish and wildlife populations valued by beneficiaries.
At TLW, total nutrient pollution was estimated as the sum of total nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate (transformed using EPA TRACI to nitrogen equivalent).
On this page you will notice several features. A time selector and watershed selector will allow you to select a time period and suite of catchments over which services and service components will be visualized. In some cases, forcing functions (e.g. precipitation) can be toggled on and off. In the center of your screen is a large graph showing raw data (e.g. streamflow). On the left is a smaller graph summarizing the value of a specific service component over the time period you selected. At the button of your screen you will see several zoom buttons which will automatically set the time and watershed selectors in order to explore effects of specific treatments.
Click on the watershed selector buttons in order to toggle individual watersheds on and off. The checkbox will tell you if a given watershed is currently selected. Similarly, select any forcing functions that you want to see visualized.
Click and drag on the time selector in order to select a time period for analysis. A gray box will indicated the period you selected, and the graphs (both of the raw and summary data) will update to reflect the changes.
Click on the zoom buttons to visualize the effects of specific treatments. The watershed selector and time selector will automatically reset themselves in order to show the watersheds and time period most relevant to the treatment selected.Text below the zoom buttons will provide additional information about the treatment and the watersheds affected, as well as provide some additional interpretation of the results. Selecting the OVERVIEW button will reset the visualization to its initial settings.