CNH-Ex: Ecology, Culture, and Outcomes: Linking Human Perceptions and Socio-Ecological Thresholds for Ecosystem Restoration (ECO-Link)

Effective ecosystem management requires an integrated research approach to determine the links between human and natural systems. To fill this gap, ECO-Link is assessing the social and ecological thresholds and feedbacks that influence efforts to manage the invasive North American beaver and restore riparian forests in southern South America's Tierra del Fuego Archipelago. We hypothesize that a current lack of local participation in ecosystem management initiatives is influenced by broken incentive structures that do not account for feedbacks between the underlying beliefs about ecosystem service delivery and their impacts on social well-being. The thresholds that separate inaction from action in environmental stewardship can be overcome by explicitly integrating these underlying beliefs and impacts into to the design of effective incentive programs. We will use a suite of approaches to test our hypothesis by i) studying the perceptions and beliefs of nature held by landowners and other stakeholders, as well as the processes and influences that facilitate or constrain decision-making and action; ii) examining the potential for incentive programs to improve participation in ecosystem management; iii) quantifying associated ecosystem services before and after beaver control and reforestation efforts; and iv) integrating perceptions, incentives, and ecosystem services across a large landscape under various land tenures in Chile and Argentina.

Introduced to the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago in 1946, the North American beaver is responsible for the largest landscape-level change to these southern Patagonian forests since the retreat of the last glaciation. The beaver's expansion has caused widespread deforestation and hydrological changes to entire river ecosystems, and since 2006, Chilean, Argentine and U.S. institutions have been collaborating to confront the issue. It is clear, however, that halting the spread of this ecological damage and restoring watersheds will require a large-scale, integrated management plan involving private and public landowners. Incentive programs are being considered to explicitly encourage behavioral changes in private landowners with the goal of positive environmental outcomes. In Tierra del Fuego, which is shared between Argentina and Chile, understanding local landowners' perceptions of the links between invasive species and ecosystem services is critical to designing an effective program that promotes participation and environmental stewardship across international institutional boundaries. By focusing on important research questions at the nexus of ecology, culture, and outcomes of management actions, ECO-Link is playing an important role in efforts to restore and protect the southern Patagonian forests of South America, one of the world's most cherished wilderness areas.