Publication - Article2021-3-2

Ecosystem Services in Working Lands of the Southeastern USA

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Coffin, Alisa W., Vivienne Sclater, Hilary Swain, Guillermo E. Ponce-Campos, and Lynne Seymour. Ecosystem Services in Working Lands of the Southeastern USA. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems 5 (March 2, 2021): 541590.


Agriculture and natural systems interweave in the southeastern US, including Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, where topographic, edaphic, hydrologic, and climatic gradients form nuanced landscapes. These are largely working lands under private control, comprising mosaics of timberlands, grazinglands, and croplands. According to the “ecosystem services” framework, these landscapes are multifunctional. Generally, working lands are highly valued for their provisioning services, and to some degree cultural services, while regulating and supporting services are harder to quantify and less appreciated. Trade-offs and synergies exist among these services. Regional ecological assessments tend to broadly paint working lands as low value for regulating and supporting services. But this generalization fails to consider the complexity and tight spatial coupling of land uses and land covers evident in such regions. The challenge of evaluating multifunctionality and ecosystem services is that they are not spatially concordant. While there are significant acreages of natural systems embedded in southeastern working lands, their spatial characteristics influence the balance of tradeoffs between ecosystem services at differing scales. To better understand this, we examined the configuration of working lands in the southeastern US by comparing indicators of ecosystem services at multiple scales. Indicators included measurements of net primary production (provisioning), agricultural Nitrogen runoff (regulating), habitat measured at three levels of land use intensity, and biodiversity (supporting). We utilized a hydrographic and ecoregional framework to partition the study region. We compared indicators aggregated at differing scales, ranging from broad ecoregions to local landscapes focused on the USDA Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) Network sites in Florida and Georgia. Subregions of the southeastern US differ markedly in contributions to overall ecosystem services. Provisioning services, characterized by production indicators, were very high in northern subregions of Georgia, while supporting services, characterized by habitat and biodiversity indicators, were notably higher in smaller subregions of Florida. For supporting services, the combined contributions of low intensity working lands with embedded natural systems made a critical difference in their regional evaluation. This analysis demonstrated how the inclusion of working lands combined with examining these at different scales shifted our understanding of ecosystem services trade-offs and synergies in the southeastern United States.


Document Details

ISSN 2571-581X

Date 2021-3-2

Document Type Journal Article

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