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Hydrologic ecosystem services: linking ecohydrologic processes to human well‐being in water research and watershed management

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Ecosystem services, the benefits ecosystems provide to people, and hydrologic services, the subset of terrestrial ecosystem services related to water, appear with increasing frequency in water resources research and watershed management. Linking biophysical function to human well‐being is central to the theory of ecosystem services, so distinctive characteristics of research on hydrologic services arise from addressing the way people are affected by ecohydrologic processes. However, based on a rapid scoping of 381 peer‐reviewed studies of hydrologic services, I identified only a small fraction that appear to effectively make the link from biophysical processes to people. In their abstracts, many of the reviewed articles use the language of hydrologic services but appear to be essentially disciplinary studies, accounting for either biophysical functioning or specific beneficiaries in their analysis, but not both. In addition to guiding research, the direct link from biophysical processes to human well‐being makes hydrologic services an appealing foundation for watershed management. The hydrologic services framework has been used to assess conservation benefits, evaluate management practices, prioritize siting, account for externalities, and perform trade‐off or cost‐benefit analysis. Hydrologic services hold potential for novel research and effective watershed management, but challenges remain in executing interdisciplinary research and in addressing the idiosyncratic demands of local management. WIREs Water 2015, 2:345–358. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1081 This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness Science of Water > Hydrological Processes Human Water > Value of Water
Relationship between ecohydrologic processes and hydrologic services. Processes that occur in the environment can be organized by their impact on various attributes of water, each of which will affect the ways in which people can use water. Identifying the hydrologic service of interest and the attribute of primary concern can help identify which ecohydrologic processes to monitor or manage. Figure adapted from Brauman et al in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Volume 32 © 2007.
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Relationship of hydrologic services programs to other water resources management approaches. Land management decisions (black arrow) are frequently driven by direct benefits, such as farm income—these benefits are locally enjoyed ecosystem services (white arrow). People downstream are also impacted by land‐use change because it affects water and other ecosystem services (white arrows). To address impacts to water, downstream water users may build interventions (blue arrow) such as treatment plants. Policy interventions (yellow arrows) seek to address the landscape characteristics that affect water. Regulating land use is one policy intervention. Hydrologic service programs are another type of policy intervention: the value of a change in water resources, determined using the hydrologic services framework, is transferred back to the upstream supplier in the form of compensation or incentives for providing desired hydrologic services.
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Hydrologic attributes of study. Water quantity and quality were the primary attributes evaluated in the reviewed studies, and many studies considered both. Numbers indicate the number of articles assessing each attribute or combination of attributes.
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Method used to quantify hydrologic service delivery. Biophysical and integrated studies were far more likely to measure or model hydrologic service delivery than were studies focused primarily on economics, social values, or governance. I identified four approaches to characterizing the delivery of hydrologic services: measurement of hydrologic attribute of interest (purple); modeling of expected hydrologic service delivery (often integrates some measurement) (red); review of existing literature (orange); and assumption that a specific ecosystem provides certain services (e.g., forests provide cleaner water than other land‐use types) (blue). Articles that did not indicate how hydrologic services were generated were categorized as unknown (green).
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Number of hydrologic services publications and their region of focus. The number of hydrologic services publications identified in ISI Web of Science has increased dramatically from January 2000 through December 2014. A total of 381 articles were analyzed. Articles since 2010 are more likely to evaluate hydrologic services in a particular geographic region.
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Hydrologic fluxes and ecosystem services in a watershed. The ecosystem services framework allows hydrologic fluxes in a watershed (a) to be organized by their impacts on water for people, such as drinking water supply or recreational resources (b). In addition, the ecosystem service framework can account for the impact the same ecosystem has on other services of interest, such as timber production or removal of air pollutants. (Reprinted from Brauman et al in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Volume 32 © 2007)
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Human Water > Value of Water
Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
Science of Water > Hydrological Processes

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