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Latest Publications

Journal Article

Benefit-Relevant Indicators: Ecosystem Services Measures That Link Ecological and Social Outcomes

Author(s): Lydia P. Olander, Robert J. Johnston, Heather Tallis, James Kagan, Lynn A. Maguire, Stephen Polasky, Dean Urban, James Boyd, Lisa Wainger, and Margaret Palmer

There is a growing movement in government, environmental NGOs, and the private sector to include ecosystem services in decision making—that is, measuring how much a change in ecological conditions affects people, social benefit, or value to society. Despite consensus around the general merit of accounting for ecosystem services, systematic guidance on what to measure and how is lacking. Current ecosystem services assessments often resort to biophysical proxies (e.g., area of wetland in a floodplain) or even disregard services that seem difficult to measure. Valuation, an important tool for assessing trade-offs and comparing outcomes, is also frequently omitted. This article in Ecological Indicators proposes the use of a new type of indicator that explicitly reflects an ecosystem’s capacity to provide benefits to society, ensuring that ecosystem services assessments measure outcomes that are demonstrably and directly relevant to human welfare. 

Journal Article

Fertilizer Management and Environmental Factors Drive N2O and NO3 Losses in Corn: A Meta-Analysis

Authors: Alison J. Eagle, Lydia P. Olander, Katie L. Locklier, James B. Heffernan, and Emily S. Bernhardt

Effective management of nitrogen (N) in agricultural landscapes must account for how nitrate (NO3) leaching and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions respond to local field-scale management and to broader environmental drivers such as climate and soil. This article in the Soil Science Society of America Journal reflects assemblage of a comprehensive database of fertilizer management studies with data on N2O and NO3 losses associated with 4R fertilizer N management in North American corn-cropping systems. Meta-analysis of side-by-side comparisons found significant yield-scaled N2O emission reductions when SUPERU replaced urea or UAN, and when urea replaced anhydrous ammonia. The large effects of climate and soil, and the potential for opposite reactions to some management changes, indicate that more simultaneous measurements of N2O and NO3 losses are needed to understand their joint responses to management and environmental factors, and how these shape tradeoffs or synergies in pathways of N loss.


Bridge Collaborative Practitioner’s Guide: Principles and Guidance for Cross-sector Action Planning and Evidence Evaluation

Lead Authors: Heather Tallis, Katharine Kreis, Lydia Olander, Claudia Ringler

The health, development, and environment sectors increasingly realize that they cannot achieve their respective goals by acting in isolation. Yet, as they pivot to act collectively, they face challenges in finding and interpreting evidence on sectoral interrelationships, and thus in developing effective evidence-based responses. Each sector already uses some form of evidence-based research, design, and action planning, but methods vary, and ideas about the strength of evidence differ, creating stumbling blocks in the way of cross-sector impact. A new initiative, called the Bridge Collaborative, sets out to spark cross-sector problem solving by developing common approaches that the three sectors could agree to and use. The collaborative has focused on two linked areas of practice that could unlock cross sector collaboration: results chains and evaluation of supporting evidence. This document captures a set of principles identified and used by the collaborative, along with detailed guidance for creating comparable results chains across sectors and evaluating evidence from multiple disciplines in common terms. 


A Call to Action for Health, Environment, and Development Leaders

Lead Authors: Heather Tallis, Barbara J. Merz, Cindy Huang, Katharine Kreis, Lydia Olander, Claudia Ringler

Ongoing economic, technological, and demographic shifts are altering the nature of today’s major, global issues and challenging us to rethink our past and current approaches to solving them. As our planet becomes more populated and prosperous, the demand for finite resources—such as water, energy, and food—are increasing rapidly. These trends escalate the urgency to find new ways of addressing persistent and growing challenges. But current research and policy systems inhibit integrated approaches to problem solving. Too often, the health, environment, and development sectors work independently setting narrowly defined objectives and failing to consider consequences outside of their own sector. A Call to Action for Health, Environment, and Development Leaders and a companion paper Bridge Collaborative Practitioner’s Guide: Principles and Guidance for Cross-sector Action Planning and Evidence Evaluation are aimed at increasing cross-sectoral focused on shared evidence.

Increasing the Engagement of Large Private Forestland Owners in Conservation Management

Increasing the Engagement of Large Private Forestland Owners in Conservation Management

Author(s): John Burrows, Tim Hipp, and Lydia Olander

The involvement of large private and institutional forestland owners in conservation has been recognized as increasingly important for the successful implementation of landscape-scale conservation. However, public and non-governmental organization partners have found engagement of these landowners in conservation planning, management, and implementation to be a significant challenge. The Nicholas Institute for Policy Solutions at Duke University, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Inc., and the U.S. Forest Service hosted three meetings in April, September, and October 2016 to bring together leaders from each of these sectors to brainstorm approaches that could help increase the engagement of large private landowners in conservation. This paper summarizes ideas generated at these “all lands” meetings and provides a few concrete examples of conservation solutions across local and regional scales that could potentially be replicated to encourage large private landowner engagement.

Data and Modeling Infrastructure for National Integration of Ecosystem Services into Decision Making: Expert Summaries

Data and Modeling Infrastructure for National Integration of Ecosystem Services into Decision Making: Expert Summaries

Authors: Lydia Olander, Ken Bagstad, Gregory W. Characklis, Patrick Comer, Micah Effron, John Gunn, Tom Holmes, Robert Johnston, James Kagan, William Lehman, John Loomis, Timon McPhearson, Anne Neale, Lauren Patterson, Leslie Richardson, Martin Ross, David Saah, Samantha Sifleet, Keith Stockmann, Dean Urban, Lisa Wainger, Robert Winthrop, and David Yoskowitz

Resource managers face increasingly complex decisions as they attempt to manage for the long-term sustainability and the health of natural resources. Incorporating ecosystem services into decision processes provides a means for increasing public engagement and generating more transparent consideration of tradeoffs that may help to garner participation and buy-in from communities and avoid unintended consequences. A 2015 White House memorandum from the Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, and Office of Science Technology and Policy acknowledged these benefits and asked all federal agencies to incorporate ecosystem services into their decision making. This working paper, expanded since its initial publication in November 2016, describes the ecological and social data and models available for quantifying the production and value of many ecosystem services across the United States. To achieve nationwide inclusion of ecosystem services, federal agencies will need to continue to build out and provide support for this essential informational infrastructure.

Journal Article

So You Want Your Research to Be Relevant? Building the Bridge between Ecosystem Services Research and Practice

Author(s): Lydia Olander, Stephen Polasky, James S. Kagan, Robert J. Johnston, Lisa Wainger, David Saah, Lynn Maguire, James Boyd, and David Yoskowitz

There is growing demand for information regarding the impacts of decisions on ecosystem services and human benefits. There remains a substantial gap between ecosystem services research and the information required to support decisions. Research often provides models and tools that do not fully link social and ecological systems; that are too complex, specialized, and costly to use; and that are targeted to outcomes that differ from those needed by decision makers. Decision makers require cost-effective, straightforward, transferable, scalable, meaningful, and defensible methods that can be readily understood. This article in the journal Ecosystem Services provides illustrative examples of the gaps between research and practice and describes how researchers can make their work relevant to decision makers by using benefit relevant indicators (BRIs) and by choosing models appropriate for particular decision contexts. 

Journal Article

When Ecosystems and Their Services Are Not Co-located: Oceans and Coasts

Author(s): Evangelia G. Drakou, Linwood Pendleton, Micah Effron, Jane Carter Ingram, and Lida Teneva

Local, regional, and global policies to manage protect and restore our oceans and coasts call for the inclusion of ecosystem services (ES) in policy-relevant research. Marine and coastal ES and the associated benefits to humans are usually assessed, quantified, and mapped at the ecosystem level to inform policy and decision-making. Yet those benefits may reach humans beyond the provisioning ecosystem, at the regional or even global level. Current efforts to map ES generated by a single ecosystem rarely consider the distribution of benefits beyond the ecosystem itself, especially at the regional or global level. This article in the ICES Journal of Marine Science elaborates on the concept of “extra-local” ES to refer to those ES-generating benefits that are enjoyed far from the providing ecosystem, focusing on the marine environment. 

Policy Brief

Sustainable Ocean Economy, Innovation, and Growth: A G20 Initiative for the 7th Largest Economy in the World

Author(s): Martin Visbeck, Kristian Teleki, Mia Pantzer, Michael K. Orbach, Patrick ten Brink, John Virdin, Julian Rochette, Anna-Kathrina Hornidge, Andrew Farmer, Daniela Russi, Torsten Thiele, Rajni Bakshi, Rajiv Bhatia, Benjamin Boteler, Miguel Heredia, R. Andreas Kraemer, Ina Krüger, Grit Martinez, Akshay Mathur, Linwood Pendleton, Tiago Pitta e Cunha, Cyrus Rustomjee, and Scott Vaughan

The authors of this G20 Insights policy brief say that the G20 should initiate a global ocean governance process, and they call for ocean economy dialogues, strategies, and regional cooperation to ensure that investment and growth in ocean use become sustainable and reach their full potential. They note that the ocean is the largest and most critical ecosystem on Earth, with many interactions between the ocean Sustainable Development Goal (SDG14) and other SDGs. Though potentially the largest provider of food, materials, energy, and ecosystem services, the ocean is stressed by increasing demand for resources, technological advances, overfishing, climate change, pollution, biodiversity, and habitat loss. Moreover, inadequate stewardship and law enforcement are contributing to the ocean’s decline. As a standing agenda item for the G20, and with associated good governance, a sustainable ocean economy can improve the health and productivity of ocean ecosystems. 

Use of Preservation in North Carolina Wetland and Stream Mitigation

Use of Preservation in North Carolina Wetland and Stream Mitigation

Authors: Ben L. Young, Lydia Olander, and Amy Pickle

To better protect the nation’s wetlands and streams, the Clean Water Act allows use of compensatory mitigation to replace the benefits of lost wetlands and streams. This paper summarizes North Carolina’s use of preservation for compensatory mitigation by private mitigation banks and a state-operated in-lieu fee (ILF) program. Within private mitigation banks, preservation activities have generated 5.6% of wetland credits and 9.1% of stream credits since 2008. Within the state in-lieu fee program run by the Division of Mitigation Services, 45.0% of wetland credits and 6.2% of stream credits have resulted from preservation. However, a majority of the wetland credits generated by preservation in the ILF program came from one site described as unusually large by program staff. Since 2008, North Carolina’s ILF program and mitigation banks have continued to use preservation at relatively low rates for both wetland and stream mitigation.