Using a new Toolkit (TESSA), Aves y Conservación (BirdLife in Ecuador) have assessed the impact of land-uses—especially cattle grazing—on the delivery of ecosystem services at Llanganates National Park in Ecuador (an IBA and Ramsar wetland of international importance). The National Park authorities are now working with Aves y Conservación to explore removing cattle, with the agreement of cattle ranchers, and supporting alternative livelihoods opportunities.
Ecosystem services are the benefits human populations receive from nature such as water production, climate regulation, crop pollination and timber amongst others. They are currently declining or significantly threatened along with the biodiversity that supports them.
As part of the BirdLife International’s High Andean Wetlands Initiative, a wetland conservation and management network has been established in South America.
High Andean wetlands are widely known for water supply and the close relationship they have with several Andean communities and their livelihoods. They are also important for resident and migratory waterbird species, providing both stopovers and wintering habitats, as well as for other biodiversity. Despite these facts, their conservation status is deteriorating.
Information from ecosystem services assessments can contribute to better environmental planning for sustainability and human welfare, supporting the establishment of management or land use strategies for biodiversity conservation. The approach also helps to reveal the users benefiting from ecosystem services and those who protect them in order to pursue sustainable and socially just processes.
Ecosystem services assessments show their contribution to human economy, health, and welfare. Regarding human welfare, it is possible to consider if conservation provides greater benefits than conversion to other land uses, which in turn provides information for the establishment of best management practices (e.g. protected areas declaration, reforestation, and restoration).
As part of the High Andean Wetlands Initiative, ecosystem services were assessed in Llanganates National Park using the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA)—a simple, low-cost, rapid method—developed by BirdLife International and other collaborators. The assessment considered how ecosystem services differed between the less degraded habitats and more degraded habitats (with grazing) within the site. This assessment was possible thanks to the participation of the Local Site Conservation Group and local stakeholders who are the users of the services provided by those ecosystems.
Four services (global climate regulation, water, cultivated goods, and nature-based tourism) were assessed in two priority ecosystems (paramo, and high Andean forest). Results from the more degraded habitats showed a small decrease in the water supply. This small decrease would be unlikely to have any great impact on the water supply for local hydroelectricity. However, if the situation was to get worse, with more tree loss, downstream towns could be impacted. Water quality would be affected by degradation of the site, with the potential for contamination of water quality increasing particularly in the south of the Ramsar site and leading to increased water treatment costs. A decrease is also expected on nature-based tourism activities with consequent income losses for local hotels, restaurants, tour guides, and tourist operators. The ability of the paramo soil to capture carbon was slightly reduced in the degraded areas, thus impacting global climate. This could be related to the increased grazing in the area (Gibbon et al. 2010).
In conclusion, declining ecosystem services in Llanganates would have a negative effect on the local and national economy, and people´s quality of life that depends on Llanganates to survive. However, addressing this issue in a sustainable way is a challenge. Eliminating grazing within the park could create a) pressure on buffer zones by intensification of deforestation or b) changes on economic activities with an impact on family income and even promoting migration to other sites.
As a result of this study it was suggested that the management authority begin the gradual removal of livestock alongside the generation of sustainable economic alternatives for people who rely on this activity.
Related Case Studies in other sections
BirdLife International (2015) Results of a Participatory Ecosystem Services Assessment in Llanganates National Park, Ecuador. Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/sowb/casestudy/546. Checked: 05/05/2016
|Key message: Conservation of nature contributes to wellbeing|