Graham Sustainability Institute

Exploring Applications of Ecosystem Service Conceptual Models for Coastal Habitats

August 2018

In recent years, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System and its partners have become increasingly interested in applying an ecosystem services approach to coastal management. This approach, which considers the benefits that flow from nature to people, has been incorporated into the reserve system’s 2017 to 2022 Strategic Plan, and the federal government is considering ways to incorporate ecosystem services into its decision making. However, there is currently no standardized way to integrate ecosystem services into coastal management and decision-making processes.

Researchers at Duke University have been working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the reserve system to find streamlined ways to incorporate ecosystem services into coastal decision making, management, and research. Their first year of work resulted in the creation of a generalized Ecosystem Services Conceptual Model (ESCM) for salt marsh ecosystems, which displays how salt marsh restoration interventions result in ecosystem services and other human welfare impacts. These models represent a promising entry point for incorporating ecosystem service considerations into a program or a project.

This project is expanding on that modeling approach by improving the existing salt marsh model and developing new models for other estuarine habitats. The project team is developing site-specific ecosystem conceptual models at a salt marsh and oyster reef site at the North Carolina Reserve, and at a mangrove site at the Rookery Bay Reserve. These site-specific models will be used to improve and/or develop generalized ecosystem services models for each habitat type. This project is linked to a related project, Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Service Logic Models and Socio-Economic Indicators (GEMS), which is using a similar approach by creating Ecosystem Services Conceptual Models to develop socio-economic indicators for restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico. Feedback and integration between these two projects can enhance the outputs and findings of both. These efforts can ultimately assist in the development of a standardized approach for consideration of ecosystem services within NOAA and the research reserve system.