NatCap conducts research across a diverse range of themes, including:
Human Well-being and Valuation
Ecosystem services are defined as the value of nature to people, but many ecosystem service assessments have stopped short of linking the supply of a given service to specific beneficiaries, its impact on their well-being and associated value.
NatCap is working to more explicitly connect how decision-makers assess supply, demand and value of ecosystem services. Ongoing projects include quantifying the external costs of nitrogen fertilizer through its impacts to water and air quality, developing tools to compare the benefits of conservation easements in Minnesota, evaluating benefits and costs of agricultural best management practices and Conservation Reserve Program lands in Iowa, and understanding how indicators used in assessing the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals can incorporate ecosystem services.
Land Use Change
Natural landscapes face many stressors — farmland expansion, growth of urban areas and climate change, just to name a few. Such stressors have the potential to drastically affect how landscapes will function in the years ahead.
NatCap is conducting research to improve understanding of the drivers of land use change, model ecosystem services across multiple land use change scenarios and create tools to understand how land use change affects economic and ecological systems. Specific projects include measuring land use change impacts on corporate supply chains in the Upper Midwest and South America, reviewing economic models in the contexts of global agricultural trade and ecosystem services, and evaluating the drivers of intensification and extensification of crops.
Nature-based Solutions in Cities
How we manage urban nature is becoming increasingly important as more and more people live in densely populated areas and as cities become the primary setting in which many people experience nature.
IonE’s NatCap team is working on a new urban ecosystem services initiative called Urban InVEST. Team members are assessing the recreational value of parks in the Twin Cities, characterizing the current state of urban ecosystem services science and evaluating mental health benefits of nature to urban residents. The goal: to inform how urban planning and design incorporate ecosystem services into sustainable, livable cities.
Land use or management decisions that involve multiple objectives are increasingly common. IonE’s NatCap team has developed tools to help practitioners and policy-makers identify strategies to best meet such multiple objectives. The team is now applying these tools to advise farmers in the U.S. Corn Belt on strategies for boosting production while protecting natural resources and help environmental planners in Africa restore forests in a way that makes the most of their ability to protect water quality and store carbon.
Making the Case for Sustainability Standards
One of the most pressing conservation challenges facing society is how to meet the growing demand for food, fuel and fiber in the face of climate change while sustaining ecosystem services and conserving biodiversity. To address this challenge, WWF and other non-governmental organizations have made substantial investments in developing and promoting the adoption of voluntary sustainability standards designed to increase the sustainability of agricultural, forest and seafood commodity production around the world. While adoption of sustainability standards is increasing, we lack evidence about sustainability, conservation, social and economic outcomes.
This science-policy initiative is conducting a first-ever assessment of the environmental and socioeconomic outcomes that can be expected from large-scale implementation of sustainability standards for commodity production, including whether these standards can help society and business meet the future demand for agriculture products while sustaining natural capital (ecosystem services and biodiversity). We use systems thinking to engage relevant decision-makers in an adaptive, learning-intensive process to advance and implement sustainability standards. This process leverages novel model-based decision tools that compare scenarios of global and regional commodity production under sustainability standards with business as usual to quantify potential conservation, production and economic gains.
The advisory committee for this initiative includes representatives from the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling (ISEAL) Alliance, Rainforest Alliance, Bonsucro, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), United Nations Environment Programme – Business and Biodiversity, International Finance Corporation (IFC), The Coca-Cola Company, Imaflora, WWF-Brazil, WWF-Pakistan, WWF Forests for Life Programme, WWF Central Africa Regional Programme, WWF-US, University of Bonn, Bowdoin College, Stanford University, and University of Hawaii.