Fresh fodder for future findings: Mapping plural values of grasslands and their ecosystem services

So far, ecosystem service research in grasslands has mainly focused on provisioning services and their economic values; however, calls for plural valuation have become more prominent in recent times. In fact, the inclusion of instrumental, relational and intrinsic values in an assessment of ecosystem services can reveal further reasons by which people express the importance of nature and their ecosystem services. In their paper, Schmitt et al. (2022) analyze the spatial distribution of these values in grasslands.

While instrumental values reflect direct and indirect benefits people can obtain from ecosystem services, intrinsic values represent the ethical rights of nature. In this study, the authors chose to examine ‘subjective’ intrinsic value, which accounts for the idea that humans can express regard for nature regardless of any potential human interest. Moreover, they explored relational values that represent the manifold relationship humans have with nature or human relations fostered by nature. To account for this, Schmitt et al. differentiate sub-types of relational values, including e.g. “Sense of place” as an emotional attachment to a place or feeling of belonging or “Care” as stewardship towards nature.

The research is implemented in two study areas located in Bavaria, Germany: First, the grassland-dominated Alpine Ammer area (later: “Ammer study area”) in the South, and secondly the Red and White Main area (later: “RWMain study area”) that showcases a mixed agricultural land use in the North of Bavaria. Schmitt et al. conducted surveys with citizens in these areas in 2018 and 2020, covering the theme “Agriculture, Climate Change, and Nature Conservation”. The 1139 respondents were asked to map grasslands in their respective areas they thought to be especially valuable and their reasoning for their choices. Furthermore, the participants rated how they perceive grasslands as suitable to supply certain ecosystem services: Fodder production, animal production, energy plant production, soil erosion reduction, flood risk reduction, pollination, biological pest control, and recreation. That way, Schmitt et al. are not only able to map the different types of values of grasslands and their ecosystem services, but also assess the potential trade-offs and synergies between values and their associations as well as people’s perceptions of ecosystem services and their socio-economic characteristics.

Schmitt et al. demonstrate how mapping the spatial distribution reveals trade-offs between intrinsic and instrumental values: Hotspots of ‘subjective’ intrinsic values in the Ammer study area are situated in areas of high biodiversity and nature conservation, while the intrinsic value coldspots are mostly in hotspots of instrumental values. Similarly, in the RWMain study area, no overlaps of hotspots of ‘subjective’ intrinsic and instrumental valued grasslands could be found. Interestingly, relational values overlap with both instrumental and intrinsic values. According to Schmitt et al., this illustrates how relational values could bridge the opposing instrumental and intrinsic values. For example, in both study areas, hotspots of ‘subjective’ intrinsic values and the relational value “Care” overlap. In the RWMain study area, “Care” overlaps with instrumental values as well. This displays the intermediate role of relational values by illustrating why people care for specific grassland areas and take action to protect those grasslands that maintain certain habitats.

Getis-Ord GI* hot- and coldspots (dots) of value domains (Instrumental, ‘subjective’ intrinsic, relational) (Schmitt et al. 2022)

The authors’ approach highlights the advantages of including multiple values of nature when valuing ecosystems. Moreover, the authors highlight that mapping values distribution is very useful to identify trade-offs and synergies and shed light on which land-use forms are more suitable to be supported by people or on who might benefit or lose with certain agricultural management decisions, economic developments or conservation measurements.

To find out more, take a look at the paper by Schmitt et al. (2022) here.

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