Human use of natural resources is dramatically increasing, due to population growth and higher per-capita consumption rates. The increasing demand for agricultural land for biofuel production is just one example of rapid changes in land-use. At the same time, climate change increasingly impacts on ecosystems by initiating complex ecological regime shifts that subsequently feedback into changes in ecosystem functions and biodiversity. As a consequence, ecosystem services, i.e. the natural processes that sustain human life and fulfil human needs, are being fundamentally altered.
The ecosystem service concept holds the promise of an overarching, trans-disciplinary framework for modern environmental science and for embedding science into policy making and society. Being an interdisciplinary concept, progress in research on ecosystem services requires concerted action in which scientists of a wide range of disciplines focus on common case studies. The ‘Helmholtz Research School for Ecosystem Services under Changing Land-use and Climate (ESCALATE)’ will train researchers to work on climate change and land-use change impacts on ecosystems and ecosystem services as well as on adaptation options for sustainable use of natural resources. Moreover, because ecosystem services are valuable in several societal sectors, from agriculture, food supply and biofuel production to flood regulation and recreation, the societal context is taken into account and analysed. This includes studies that try to solve questions regarding which sectors in society are prioritising or benefiting from ecosystem services, which groups may be negatively affected by changing/decreasing ecosystem services, and what are suitable approaches to address the involved trade-offs and conflicts. The management of ecosystem services requires a substantially improved understanding of ecosystem functions on which ecosystem services are based, to enable adequate and practicable solutions to ecosystem service degradation that comes along with land-use and climate change. In order to provide innovative ways for future governance, such solutions have to take into account societal values and cultural norms. ESCALATE will provide the research environment for integrated doctoral projects, addressing and linking the ecological, economic and social aspects of current and expected future ecosystem services.
- Training: the young scientists trained in ESCALATE will provide substantial input to their disciplinary fields of research through their theses and publications, having graduated in ESCALATE we expect them to be able to develop, implement and conduct interdisciplinary projects in different types of institute, such as in research, non-governmental organizations, or NGO consultancy agencies.
- Research: Advancing the state-of-the-art in ecosystem services assessments by researching across unknown, possibly nonlinear and complex feedbacks and interrelationships between land-use and climate change as well as ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services. Based on the participating scientists and the educational program, the interdisciplinary approach of ESCALATE will deliver integrative ecosystem services concepts that will serve as a solid foundation for developing new concepts for the sustainable utilization of natural resources.
To meet its objectives, ESCALATE integrates research at the interface of a wide variety of disciplines that address multiple aspects of research on ecosystem services. These different viewing angles are required for making the ecosystem services concept applicable and for providing tools and instruments for a sustainable appropriation of natural resources. The proposed thematic structure of ESCALATE follows the facets that characterize holistic approaches in ecosystem service research. These interfaces can be grouped logically into four main research topics (1) ecological processes and functions linked to ecosystem services, studied in ecosystem and biodiversity research, (2) ecosystem service dynamics in changing landscapes, which addresses ecosystem services at a broader scale, and (3) human benefits derived from ecosystem services that focuses on aspects of human well-being derived from ecosystem services. The linkage and the interplay of these topics with society will be addressed in research topic (4) institutional framework and instruments for sustainable utilization of ecosystem services.
In order to ensure the tight integration of these four research topics, all doctoral research projects proposed in ESCALATE will be thematically placed at the transition points between the topics and will be supervised interdisciplinary.