People both create and benefit from the ecosystem services corridors provide

Landscape corridors are created with plants and animals in mind: to promote their dispersal and migration, their population persistence, and their diversity.  Yet, corridors are not always created for these reasons. They are also created for their ecosystem services.

A nearly unexplored aspect of corridors is the value they provide to people.  Riparian buffers are created along rivers and streams to improve water quality. Large and connected natural areas are created for their scenic beauty. Hedges are created to increase pollination and natural pest control. Greenways are created to bring nature and recreation to people within urban areas.

A new effort creates two different types of ecosystem services: dispersal routes for pollinators, and income opportunities for nearby communities.  A recent story in Scientific American tells how Ron Pulliam and Gary Nabhan created Borderlands Restoration to actively creating a “Restoration Economy” in Arizona at the southern U.S. border with Mexico. A primary ecological goal is to restore the region’s diverse pollinator community, including bees and hummingbirds.

To do this, they create corridors in two places. One is on perennial streams. In this region as elsewhere, riparian corridors have been degraded, in this case through degradation of hydrology that then impairs plant production and the animal community. The group create berms and small rock dams to impede water flow, increase soil moisture, and stabilize soil, which in concert create the conditions needed to sustain a diverse and productive plant community. The other is through agricultural fields and in urban yards, where they create hedgerows or gardens of native plants.

In addition to restoring ecological function, a major goal is to generate pollination services for orchards. Ecosystems then create services that radiate outward.

The effort creates an “inverse” service compared those typically considered. Borderlands restoration requires intense effort by people, creating restoration structures in streams, growing native plants, and planting plants in riparian, agricultural, and urban landscapes. The restoration economy thus generates income for people in a positive feedback whereby the services delivered for ecosystems by people living in nearby communities create services delivered by ecosystems to surrounding environments.

Or, as Pulliam says: “if the pollinators come back, and if we can create viable training and jobs centered in all of this work, we’re accomplishing our goals.”

Resources

Adams, A. M. “‘Restoration Ecology’ strives to protect pollinators, create jobs.” Scientific American. November 21, 2016.

Borderlands Restoration: borderlandsrestoration.org/

2017-03-19T23:24:48+00:00 December 15th, 2016|

About the Author:

Nick Haddad

Dr. Nick Haddad is Senior Terrestrial Ecologist in the Department of Integrative Biology at Michigan State University and Kellogg Biological Station. For more than 20 years, he has been studying how plants and animals use corridors. He has worked in the largest and longest-running corridor experiment, the Savannah River Site Corridor Project, and he has studied natural corridors used by rare butterflies.