Connecting a fragmented landscape with human wellbeing
Look out an airplane window almost anywhere in the world and you'll see small patches of forest or grassland surrounded by fields or houses. This is fragmentation – the breaking apart of natural lands, habitat, and ecosystems into smaller pieces, usually because of human activities. Agricultural expansion, urban growth, road construction and the damming of rivers have all resulted in ecosystem fragmentation, with serious consequences for biodiversity loss.
Human-dominated landscapes though, are not only managed for biodiversity; but also to provide benefits, or ecosystem services to people. Ecosystem services are the goods and processes from ecosystems that benefit human wellbeing. This includes material goods like food, timber, fibre and water; processes such as pollination, pest regulation, flood regulation and water purification; and more intangible benefits like aesthetic or spiritual fulfillment and opportunities for recreation or education.
While the ecosystem-services perspective doesn't please everyone (some suggest it 'commodifies' nature), there is no denying that humans rely on ecosystems for their wellbeing. In turn, the generation of ecosystem services often depends on biodiversity and when species are lost from ecosystems the production of ecosystem services can decline.
As human activities fragment landscapes, how might this affect ecosystem services? We tried to answer this question by thinking broadly about how landscape fragmentation might affect services. Our goal was to produce a new framework for thinking about the effects of landscape fragmentation in order to spur new research and understanding about these relationships in real landscapes. Knowledge in this area is critical if we want to manage landscapes to optimize ecosystem services and conserve biodiversity.