CNH: Impacts of Ecosystem Service Payments in Coupled Natural and Human Systems

Payments for ecosystem services are incentives paid to users of natural resources to reduce their use of these resources and the accompanying stresses and disturbances to the natural systems that provide the resources. Although some systems of payments have been in place for over two decades, the success of payments in maintaining both ecosystems and human well-being has not been critically assessed. This project will study the system of payments in Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve in China, the habitat of the endangered Guizhou golden monkey, Rhinopithecus brelichi. To assess effects on the ecosystem, researchers will use remote sensing to measure change in forest cover and use camera trapping to measure which forest areas are serving as habitat for golden monkeys. To assess effects on the local people, researchers will combine existing census data with extensive household surveys and participatory mapping. Results will show how human populations, attachment to the land, decisions, and livelihoods have changed since payments began, how the quality of the forest has changed, and how these changes in the human and the natural systems depend on each other and are likely to go on in the future. These findings will assess how well payments for ecosystem services have succeeded at Fanjingshan, show how to assess other systems of payments, and suggest how to improve the effectiveness of payments.

The project will help test and hone an important tool for conservation. Previous work suggests that the benefits of payment programs to biological conservation and local populations are usually not sustained once payments end, because participants tend to return to their behaviors before the program. This project will specifically examine this issue as part of its general aim to enhance ability to plan, design, and implement payment programs, and thus to increase the effectiveness of tax dollars in protecting our environment. The research will educate K-12 students and teachers in both the United States and China through mentoring and curriculum development, feed into the development of curricula for university students, and train future academic leaders in multiple disciplines. The project will reach out to local indigenous populations, managers, policy-makers and the general public, increasing understanding of how payment programs work and leading to improvements in conservation awareness, conservation planning and design, and policy implementation. In addition to regular presentations and publications, a movie that documents the multidisciplinary nature of the project and a comprehensive website will be developed to reach stakeholders at local to global scales. All these efforts will contribute to increasing understanding about how to conserve endangered species and associated ecosystems.