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  • Why what ‘wilderness’ is matters

Why what ‘wilderness’ is matters

Maize grows near Yangambi, Democratic Republic of Congo. CIFOR/Axel Fassio
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Indonesia – Five countries hold 70 percent of the world’s natural ecosystems, according to an article published in the journal Nature by researcher James Watson and colleagues.

In “Protect the last of the wild,” the authors urge an increase in conservation activities in a number of locations to safeguard the planet from biodiversity loss and the projected dire consequences of climate change. They raise important arguments for conservation.

Source: CIFOR Forests News.

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  • Genetic Diversity Analysis Reveals Genetic Differentiation and Strong Population Structure in Calotropis Plants

Genetic Diversity Analysis Reveals Genetic Differentiation and Strong Population Structure in Calotropis Plants

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The genus Calotropis (Asclepiadaceae) is comprised of two species, C. gigantea and C. procera, which both show significant economic potential for use of their seed fibers in the textile industry, and of their bioactive compounds as new medicinal resources. The available wild-sourced germplasm contains limited genetic information that restricts further germplasm exploration for the purposes of domestication. We here developed twenty novel EST-SSR markers and applied them to assess genetic diversity, population structure and differentiation within Calotropis. The polymorphic information index of these markers ranged from 0.102 to 0.800; indicating that they are highly informative. Moderate genetic diversity was revealed in both species, with no difference between species in the amount of genetic diversity. Population structure analysis suggested five main genetic groups (K = 5) and relatively high genetic differentiation (FST = 0.528) between the two species. Mantel test analysis showed strong correlation between geographical and genetic distance in C. procera (r = 0.875, p = 0.020) while C. gigantea showed no such correlation (r = 0.390, p = 0.210). This study provides novel insights into the genetic diversity and population structure of Calotropis, which will promote further resource utilization and the development of genetic improvement strategies for Calotropis.

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  • More than putting a price tag on the planet

More than putting a price tag on the planet

Putting a price tag on nature, really? Photo: Terry Sunderland/CIFOR
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Putting a price tag on nature, really? Photo: Terry Sunderland/CIFOR

By Suzanna Dayne, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

How do we calculate the worth of nature? What carries the highest value: the habitat of an endangered species, a local community’s traditional landscape, or a nation’s income from, say, timber exports?

Questions like these are what a team of researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partner institutions grappled with in their latest study.

The study makes the case for a ‘new school’ of ecosystem valuation practice that allows for the weighing of multiple values in making land-use decisions.

“Ecosystem valuation can be difficult and controversial, and classical economists have often been criticized for trying to put a price tag on nature,” says Dr. Sander Jacobs, a researcher at the Research Institute for Nature and Forest and a lead author of the study.

Jacobs says one of the issues is that when people talk about valuation, they usually think about money. But in ecological economics, the word takes on a much broader meaning.

“Valuing is what we all do, all the time, when making choices,” says Jacobs.

“Valuation in the broad sense is about assigning importance, and in an ecosystem context this means looking at how people value their environment – not only economically but also socially, culturally and ecologically.”

As the world responds to the challenges of climate change, and awareness grows about its severe social and environmental impacts, there is an urgent need to integrate nature’s diverse values more comprehensively and transparently in decisions and actions.

“Agencies in charge of protecting and managing natural resources must often make difficult decisions on land and resource use,” says Jacobs.

“Sometimes environmental and human needs can co-exist, but often there are trade-offs and leaving certain values out of such decisions can have a devastating impact on everyone.”

A timber yard with wood from the amazon, Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Tomas Munita for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

MORE THAN MONETARY VALUE

For decades, there has been strong scientific debate between monetary and non-monetary schools of ecosystem valuation. In order to tackle current global challenges, a growing group of researchers argues that a new approach is needed – one that will balance ecological, socio-cultural and economic concerns, leading to better-informed and fairer decision making.

“We need a new culture, a new take on valuation,” says Jacobs.

“Everyone knows the main approach we have followed is a monetary approach, mainly because there are a lot of tools and methods for this, and there are a lot of economists around. But when confronted with real-life practice, a single-method approach is shown to be flawed. We found that what is needed is a new valuation school that takes a cohesive, inclusive approach, rather than pitching one [method] against the other.”

“We need decision makers to see the economic information and then say, ‘Interesting, but now I also need the social and ecological data to make a full evaluation,’” he adds. “And when you look at the reality – the real-life context where decisions are being made – decision makers are taking into account different values. They just need the balanced information.”


AN APPROACH THAT WORKS

The researchers based their findings on more than two dozen valuation studies, covering subjects ranging from urban planning in France to impacts of fracking in Australia and social struggles in environmental conflicts in Colombia. These were presented together with the complete valuation school study in a special issue of the journal Ecosystem Services, complemented by theoretical underpinnings on valuation and a twin issue on shared values.

A key lesson drawn from the studies is that an integrated valuation approach is more widely accepted by decision makers, while a single-valuation approach – scientifically elegant as it might be – is often disputed, discarded, or simply ignored in practice.

Recent policy initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which assesses the state of biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides to society, were also considered in the study and found to take an integrated valuation approach that achieves positive results.

“What’s exciting about IPBES is that this is a politically legitimate assessment: governments, NGOs and indigenous people are all represented, and they agree on important conclusions,” says Jacobs.

“So this sends a strong message. For example, while scientists and NGOs already knew pesticides were hurting our bees, through IPBES it became a political fact that could leverage actions and can have a major impact on future policy decisions.”

IPBES is championing an integrated valuation approach in its global assessment on the values of nature, which will take into account these studies, as well as others being conducted around the world.

The IPBES assessment takes into account three ‘value dimensions’: the value of nature itself, regardless of its use to humankind; nature’s contributions to humankind; and the high quality of life that our relations with nature provide.

“It’s important that knowledge gaps in these three areas are filled,” says Jacobs. “But it is great to see that these concepts are being worked on and can be integrated into high-level policy documents.”

NO SILVER BULLET

The study states that in order to have an impact beyond academic theorizing, ecosystem valuation researchers need to learn from real-world application of valuation methods, sharing successes and failures, and actively tailoring research processes to fit with reality on the ground.

“Of course, there are no silver bullets,” says Jacobs. “Scientists like to present them, but they don’t exist. We will have to adapt the methods to every single context, and this is a key message. There is no perfect template.”

In the end, he says, researchers need to ask themselves: ‘Who am I doing this research for, what will it be used for, and who will be impacted?’ To this end, researchers must be careful to include in their research the values of the entire range of stakeholders, particularly those at risk of being under-represented in decision-making processes.

“Valuation scientists need to go to the field and see the reality for themselves before even thinking about what method or expertise is needed. We need to involve all value dimensions and consider each one to inform decisions,” says Jacobs.

“We, as scientists, need to go beyond the theoretical. We need to solve real problems.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Sander Jacobs at [email protected].
This research was supported by the Openness FP7 Project

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