Ecosystems under human pressure can undergo irreversible shifts, including the collapse of essential services such as water quality. Anticipating such tipping points is vital to understand links between economic and environmental change and could avert ruin for poor communities.
This project, set in eastern China, has compiled the world’s first data on ecosystem services over decades and provides the world’s first long-term data showing how regional social and economic changes have affected air and water quality, biodiversity, and other key ecosystem services. An Ecosystem Services Index, combining six ecological trends, shows at a glance that during the last 40 years of intensifying agriculture in this region, the natural systems that sustain farming livelihoods have degraded by 50%. Trends for individual resources highlight urgent problems and those that have responded well to policy interventions. The work points the way for researchers and development planners worldwide to predict, and avoid, irreparable damage to regional ecosystems. This project created an international archive for long-term eco-data, which will ease the process considerably.
ESPA. Unearthing history, preventing disaster: Long-term regional records of ecological and economic change can inform development planning. ESPA, UK (2011) 2 pp.