Assessment of ecosystem services and environmental threats across the Appalachians

Greater Appalachian Conservation Partnership (this partnership includes state, federal, and private organizations formerly engaged through the Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative); University of North Carolina Asheville's National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC); Baldwin Conservation Lab at Clemson University

Forest_importance_to_surface_drinking_water.jpgSUMMARY: The greater Appalachian region encompasses a rich diversity of forests, streams, and other natural resources. Millions of people benefit from ecosystem services provided here as diverse as clean water, forest products, outdoor recreation and tourism, fish and wildlife conservation, and the recycling and storage of carbon and nutrients. The region is also the scene of rapid environmental change—both realized and expected—which may compromise the sustainability of ecosystem services. Major drivers include changes in climate and land use driven Total_forest_carbon_density.jpgby urbanization and energy development; large-scale disruptions associated with wildland fire, forest pathogens, and invasive species; and other factors acting across large landscapes.

Understanding the linkages between ecosystem services and drivers of broad-scale change within the Appalachian region is essential for natural resource conservation and management. Researchers are developing tools that will help managers, scientists, industries, and the public link the environmental and economic values of the region’s Projected_population.jpgnatural assets in a way that encourages protection of and investments in these resources.

The first phase of this effort resulted in new online resources that synthesize and interpret findings from an exhaustive collection of broad-scale ecosystem service assessments, related products including geospatial data, and decision-support tools that have relevance for the Appalachian region. Building on this inventory and synthesis, researchers have also developed new geospatial tools for assessing the sustainability of ecosystem services that provide critical Shale_gas_development_probability.jpgsocial and environmental functions such as forest carbon storage, clean water, and outdoor recreation. Case studies are available in the ecosystem service assessments link to the Landscape Dynamics Assessment Tool website below. These products are intended to provide managers and other partners a landscape context for assessing the potential effectiveness of alternative planning and management strategies, given expected environmental change.

This project has made significant contributions towards development of the Landscape Dynamics Assessment Tool (LanDAT), and project researchers have used LanDAT to develop ecosystem service assessments for the Appalachian region.

Pictured: Maps show ecosystem services in the Appalachian region, such as clean water and storage of carbon and nutrients, as well as drivers of change in the region, including urbanization and energy development. Click the images to enlarge.

EFETAC'S ROLE: Eastern Threat Center Director Danny C. Lee served as the Principal Investigator on this project, and Center Ecologist Lars Pomara served as project leader. Biological Scientist Bill Christie and other Center scientists provided additional project support. NEMAC provided significant technical and data management support as well as web content development through a cooperative agreement with the Eastern Threat Center. The Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative (partners now engaged through the Greater Appalachian Conservation Partnership) and the Eastern Threat Center provided project funding.

STATUS: Completed

PROGRESS: Work was initiated in July 2014, and the first major project phase was completed in the fall of 2015 (resulting web content can be accessed in the links below). The LanDAT website and related ecosystem service assessments were released in April 2017, and multiple user workshops were conducted throughout 2017. Peer-reviewed publications related to the project are forthcoming.


Ecosystem Benefits and Risks website

Ecosystem Services Conservation Atlas

Ecosystem Benefits and Risks fact sheet

LanDAT website

"Science Partners Launch “Ecosystem Benefits and Risks” Website" (related article from CompassLive)

Lars Pomara, Eastern Threat Center Ecologist, or 828-257-4357

Updated June 2018

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