Frontiers: Knowledge systems for ecosystem services


In the early years of the new millennium, more than 1,000 worldwide experts compiled a report about the condition of Earth’s ecological systems. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment findings “provide a state-of-the-art scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services they provide (such as clean water, food, forest products, flood control and natural resources) and the options to restore, conserve or enhance the sustainable use of ecosystems,” according to the MA website.

The next step, says Laura Musacchio, is to translate the information for nonscientists, to be applied by designers and planners for the enhancement of urban environments.

Musacchio, an IonE resident fellow and associate professor of landscape architecture in the College of Design, assert that this type of translation is a specialized skill she calls “knowledge brokering.” A knowledge broker is a “cross-pollinator of ideas among professionals from different disciplines,” she explained at the May 1 Frontiers in the Environment seminar.

Knowledge brokering helps move scientific discovery and application forward in a strategic manner and advocates for distant goals that are challenging to perceive and understand, said Musacchio. “It’s a collaborative process for translating ideas and building relationships in networks. The goal is to improve usability and transferability of ideas and enhance understanding across disciplines.”

Musacchio is most interested in the cultural — human — dimensions of ecosystem services in highly modified and intensively used landscapes, she said. “Re-greening,” such as installing a community garden, and “rewilding,” such as reclaiming a downtown wetland, are examples she gave of integrating science and design to enhance ecosystem services.

One of the many questions that arise for Musacchio is, “As we adapt, do we end up with miniature versions of existing landscapes, and do they provide ecosystem services?” Watch a video of the presentation to learn more!

Monique Dubos is a freelance writer and photographer. She currently works at the University of Minnesota.