For centuries, mountain ecosystems in the Alps have provided essential services such as food, timber and protection from natural hazards (e.g. avalanches, landslides), enabling mountain societies to thrive in these marginal environments. Former human activities exploiting such services left visible marks characterizing today's landscapes of the strictly protected Swiss National Park. Today, no human interventions are allowed in the park, and this unique environment allows research on the ensuing natural processes. At the same time, people look for wilderness, wildlife, and scenic beauty in such protected areas.
In surrounding landscapes, such as the lower Engadin and the region of Davos, the biophysical conditions are similar to those of the SNP, but they are managed for traditional agriculture and tourism. This results in differences in ecosystem properties, such as forest structures and grassland biodiversity, but also in different demands for ecosystem services.
In ECOPOTENTIAL, we are using modelling to better understand the demand and supply of mountain ecosystem services. For example, we use a combination of airborne and satellite imagery to distinguish different forest structures and tree species. Combined with data on houses and infrastructure, this information allows us to map the forests that protect people from avalanches. As forest structures change over time (e.g. due to disturbances, or as the tree line shift upwards due to climate change), the maps can be updated with new Earth Observation data. However, modelling of ecosystem services contains many uncertainties, such as inaccuracies in the EO data, model parameter uncertainties, or uncertainties about future conditions. In order to account for the different types of uncertainties, disentangle them, and identify key knowledge gaps, we use a Bayesian Network modelling approach (Stritih et al., 2019).
Figure 1: A Sentinel2 image of the Swiss National Park (ESA, 26.06.2017), overlain with a classification of vegetation types.
Figure 2: Modelled value of avalanche protection by forests in municipality of Davos
Besides differences in ecosystem structure and potential to provide services, protected and non-protected areas also differ in peoples demand for ecosystem services. At a workshop in the Swiss National Park, local stakeholders were asked to rank the importance of different ecosystem services. Inside the Park, biodiversity and cultural services (such as wildlife observation, scenic beauty, and research and education) are particularly important. Outside the park, a wider variety of services is seen as important, including protection from natural hazards and recreation. Interestingly, local inhabitants identify more with the cultural landscape outside the Park than the wilderness within the SNP.
Figure 3: Ranking of key ecosystem services within and outside the Swiss National Park at a workshop with local stakeholders in Zernez, March 2018. Participants were given 5 stickers per area and asked to assign them to the ES they find most important.
Similar differences can be observed when using social media photographs (from Flickr) to analyse cultural ecosystem services. While landscape photographs are the most common category in all areas, recreation and cultural features are more commonly photographed outside the park, and pictures of flora are more common inside the SNP (see Figure 3).
Figure 4: An illustration of the categories of content in Flickr photographs and the frequency of photograph classes in Davos, the Swiss National Park, and the area surrounding the park. From: Selina Gosteli, 2019.
Stritih, A., P. Bebi, and A. Grêt-Regamey. 2019. Quantifying uncertainties in EO-based ecosystem service assessments. Environmental Modelling & Software 111(January):300310.
A. Stritih, A. Grêt-Regamey. Bayesian modelling of mountain ecosystem services: A prototype for avalanche protection. GEOBON conference, Leipzig, July 2016.
A. Stritih, P. Bebi, A. Grêt-Regamey. Supply and demand of mountain ecosystem services within and outside protected areas. ESP Europe Conference, San Sebastian, October 2018.
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Last update: May, 2019