Featured Projects

NatCap at the University of Minnesota is working with a diverse set of collaborators to answer a variety of ecosystem services questions. A few of these exciting partnerships are highlighted below.

Informing Ecosystem Services Management in the State of Minnesota

NatCap is working on two projects funded through the state of Minnesota’s Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

One, “Assessing Public Benefits of Conservation Easement Acquisition,” explores the integration of ecosystem services into state-level decision-making and policy. Specifically, NatCap researchers will apply ecosystem services models to assess conservation easements and create a tool kit to help practitioners evaluate and compare conservation easements across Minnesota.

In another LCCMR project, “Water Resources: Understanding Water Scarcity, Threats, and Values to Improve Management,” NatCap team members are developing a water balance model for Minnesota by quantifying irrigation, municipal, domestic and industrial water supply and use across the state under future climate scenarios. This effort is a collaboration with researchers from IonE’s Global Water Initiative and the Twine Lab in the University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Read more about these projects: What is the future of clean water in Minnesota? and Watershed moment for IonE’s NatCap.

Using Ecosystem Service Indicators in U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

To inform the implementation of the 17 sustainable development goals adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2015, NatCap is working with with Bioversity International, the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research and Columbia University to develop metrics and indicators linking ecosystem services to the SDGs .

As part of this effort, the team has developed Mapping Ecosystem Services to Human well-being (MESH), a tool for calculating and mapping ecosystem services under different landscape management scenarios. The team is using MESH  to assess how regional drivers of climate change, land-use change and large-scale investment projects affect ecosystem services and human well-being in West Africa’s Volta River Basin.

This work has been supported by Science for Nature and People and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.

Read more about this project in our blog post Making Ecosystem Services Count.

Examining Ecosystem Service Trade-offs in Forest Restoration

NatCap has collaborated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature to support the restoration of millions of hectares of degraded lands globally under the Knowledge and Tools for Forest Landscape Restoration (KNOW-FOR) network.

To provide additional capacity support to IUCN’s Restoration Opportunity Assessment Methodology, IonE’s NatCap team has been developing the Restoration Opportunity Optimization Tool to target restoration investments based on their contribution to multiple ecosystem services, with a preliminary application of the tool in national level forest restoration planning efforts in Uganda.

In the process, the team has helped build the capacity of IUCN, partner organizations and country partners to do their own ecosystem service assessments and has presented ROOT to researchers, practitioners and decision-makers around the world.

Read more about this project in our blog post New ecosystem services tool encourages smarter investments in forest restoration

Evaluating Mental Health Benefits of Urban Nature

NatCap participated in the Convergence Colloquium for Smart Cities and Infrastructure, which brought together experts and community leaders from across Minnesota to explore how we can create communities that are more intelligent, efficient and livable.

Following this event, NatCap and collaborators were awarded a grant to pursue a project entitled “The Mental Health Benefits of Nature Experience: Translating Science to Urban Design.”

Through this project, NatCap has convened researchers to investigate what we know about the link between nature in cities and mental health and well-being to help inform urban planning, urban design and public health. The research team includes partners from across the University of Minnesota, the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Stanford University, Trust for Public Land, Minnesota Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation, among many others.

Assessing, Communicating and Expanding the Conservation and Sustainable Development Outcomes of Voluntary Sustainability Standards

NatCap and WWF use systems thinking to engage relevant decision-makers in an adaptive, learning-intensive process for the advancement and implementation of 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. Results of this work will be used to inform public- and private-sector conservation and business cases for adopting sustainability standards and to recommend improvements in the design of standards for better conservation.

Specifically, this initiative seeks to understand the role of the sustainability standards for commodity production in helping to achieve: 1) WWF’s conservation goals, 2) corporate sustainability commitments and 3) U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 1 (end poverty in all its forms everywhere), Goal 6 (ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all), Goal 13 (take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts) and Goal 15 (protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss). By assessing and effectively communicating the potential for large-scale adoption of sustainability standards to meet these goals, NatCap will influence decisions made by consumers, producers, businesses, investors, governments, standard-setting bodies and conservation organizations, many representatives of which are already actively engaged in our work.

A major product of this work will be the development of global natural capital, cost and land use change data sets and models for spatially assessing supply chain risk and mitigation opportunities across multiple commodities under changing climate and market conditions. Our team is already in the process of piloting this approach for the Bonsucro sugarcane sustainability standard. Our intention is to expand the analysis to include Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil palm, Roundtable for Responsible Soy, Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and/or the Forest Stewardship Council. At a global level, our analysis suggests that full adoption of the Bonsucro standard would reduce the natural capital impacts of the expected doubling of sugarcane production by shifting where sugarcane is grown toward higher yielding/lower input areas and by shifting practices to become efficient. Engagements with Bonsucro and The Coca-Cola Company around these findings have already begun to shift the way they think about their strategies and the potential impacts of standards. For example, Bonsucro will use our modeling results to guide its strategic decisions for where to target adoption of and how to revise and improve its standards going forward — allowing WWF to align voluntary sustainability standards with improved achievement of global conservation goals.

Have questions about these or other projects? Email our team at natcap@umn.edu, or call us at 612-626-2120.