Comparing ecosystem services provided by protected areas with non-protected areas in mountainous areas of Europe using EO

Lead Author: ETH Zürich
Contributors: Ana Stritih (ETH), Adrienne Grêt-Regamey (ETH)


Alpine forests and grasslands have provided people with essential services such as food, timber, and protection from natural hazards (e.g. avalanches, rock fall, and erosion) over centuries. Although mountain societies have developed successful strategies to cope with living in these marginal and extreme environments, the unprecedented rates of change and magnitude of both globalization processes and climatic change are increasing their vulnerability, and their capacity to provide ecosystem services may be jeopardized. At the same time, many of the services provided by mountain ecosystems have been recognized as valuable to a wider society including people living outside these areas, such as scenic beauty, biodiversity, recreation, and carbon sequestration. One common measure aimed at preserving these values is the establishment of protected areas. The Swiss National Park (SNP) was established in 1914 as the first national park in the Alps, with the aim to minimize human disturbance and let natural processes take their course. Today, the park covers an area of 170 km2, consisting of forests (28%), alpine meadows (21%), rock and scree. Although subject to strict regulations, around 150 000 people visit the park every year.

The inner-alpine high mountain area of Davos is comparable to the Swiss National Park in terms of bio-physical conditions and landscape composition. The study area includes the municipality of Davos and covers an area of 254 km2. The local population amounts to approximately 13,000 people and there are approximately 25,000 guest beds. The principal town, Davos, with its well-established urban and tourist infrastructure, is located in the central part of the main valley. The rest of the main valley and the three side valleys have remained relatively rural with a few small, scattered settlements and a landscape still strongly dominated by mountain agriculture, mainly pastures and meadows. Although the productivity of grasslands is likely to increase due to climate change (Briner et al. 2012), agricultural use has been decreasing over the over the past century (Lundström et al. 2007). Land abandonment and climate change also have an effect on forests, with an upward shift in the tree line and densification of previously grazed forests at high elevations (Kulakowski et al. 2011). The changing forest structure is accompanied by a shift in species composition, with recruitment of spruce in previously larch-dominated stands. This change may be beneficial for regulatory services, with an increase in carbon sequestration and protection against natural hazards (Bebi et al. 2012). At the same time landscape heterogeneity is decreasing (Kulakowski et al. 2011), which may impact the level of biodiversity. The scenic beauty of the region, which is important for tourism, may also decrease (Grêt-Regamey et al. 2007). Overall, the supply of ecosystem services demanded by people in the region and outside the area is therefore vulnerable to the changes in temperature and land use. (Huber et al. 2013).



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