ES Symposium 2015

Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Science Symposium

September 16, 2015

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute

University of Alberta


Watch videos of the presentations here

Read a summary of the event here

You’re invited to join the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) and our collaborators for a Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Science Symposium! ABMI’s Ecosystem Services Assessment project is assessing and mapping ecosystem services across the province of Alberta to better understand how management and land use decision affect the provision of ecosystem services in the province. We invite you to attend an engaging series of presentations from experts in the field, showcasing the state of the science of ecosystem services, and offering opportunity for discussion with researchers and practitioners.

Who should attend?

    • Faculty, graduate students, and researchers in the environmental and social sciences at universities, government, industry, and non-government organizations
    • Policymakers, land use planners and managers at all levels of government – federal, provincial, municipal and urban
    • Field staff, coordinators, and organizers from conservation and stewardship organizations
    • Industry managers and policy advisors with environmental responsibilities in agriculture, forestry, energy and other natural resource sectors.


Some of the benefits provided by nature have a clear, recognized, and well-understood economic value (e.g., food and timber production), while others don’t (e.g., water purification, recreation). Continued provision of ecosystem services (especially those lacking clear economic value) and biodiversity in a growing province like Alberta is a big challenge for environmental managers and decision makers. While regulatory approaches will continue to be an important part of Alberta’s environmental management system, market approaches can also promote actions such as restoration and protection, conservation and stewardship. Market approaches can also provide economic incentives to avoid or minimize the loss of ecosystem services and biodiversity caused by development. Both regulatory and market approaches need reliable knowledge of where ecosystem services are provided, who benefits, and how they are affected by people and ecological processes. Sounds straightforward? It’s not. Check out the recent Special Feature in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – while researchers and practitioners from around the world are making great progress, there’s much to learn. We’ve convened several experts to present and discuss the science of ecosystem services, the challenges of applying it, and the opportunities to accelerate progress in Alberta.

Please register before August 31, 2015 here.

ESA applications

What we’ll talk about


Who benefits from ecosystem services, and how?

Which tools are available to quantify, map, and value ecosystem service flows? Ken Bagstad has published extensively on the development and application of models, including InVest, ARIES and SolVES. What would it take to apply tools like these in Alberta?

The role of interdisciplinary research

Alberta is a social-ecological system. Kai Chan’s interdisciplinary research in ecology, policy, and ethics can improve environmental management and governance of such systems. What are the key questions in this field, and how can we apply what we know?

Emerging capacity in Alberta

Some of the data needed to assess ecosystem services is already available, but there are also some big holes to fill. Tom Habib has integrated existing data into a suite of assessment models for each of Alberta’s seven land use regions. How can we use these models, and what are the next steps?

Accounting for rapid evolutionary change

Understanding evolutionary change in natural populations a fundamental part of the knowledge required to effectively manage our impacts on the environment. Andrew Hendry’s research across the globe shows that surprisingly rapid evolution can occur in the face of environmental change. What does this mean for biodiversity science, conservation, and policy?

The role of institutions

The public and private institutions that shape our interaction with nature are both barriers and opportunities for more effective environmental management. David Hill’s distinguished career as a key advocate for water research, water use policies and irrigation management places him in a unique position to suggest how these institutions can serve us better. Are new institutions needed?

Rangeland ecosystem services

Productive grasslands are the heart of cowboy culture in Alberta, and fuelled the economic growth of the province for decades. Grassland ecologist Majid Iravani has begun to integrate rangeland data and models, and point to opportunities for increasing the suite of benefits from private and public rangelands. What do we already know? What gaps need to be filled?

The value of pollination

The economic value of agricultural production is easy to measure. The contribution of insect pollinators to crop yield? Not so much. Jessamyn Manson’s new research program considers the fascinating but uncertain relationship between native bees and canola. What do we need to know before telling a compelling story about this ecosystem service?

Economics for conservationists

Estimating the economic value of nature, and the trade-offs between alternative uses, is an emerging interdisciplinary field. Robin Naidoo (co)wrote the book on economics for conservationists. What elements of this research can we build on, to accelerate application in Alberta?

Your Host

The Ecosystem Services Assessment Project led by the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, is a collaborative effort to assess and map ecosystem services across Alberta, to better understand how planning and management decisions affect the benefits people receive from nature. The project is part of the Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Network.

For more information

Carrie Selin – ABMI Ecosystem Services Assessment Project 780.913.7292


8:00 Registration
8:30 Welcome and opening remarks Dan Farr, ABMI
8:40 Estimating the economic benefits of biodiversity Robin Naidoo, WWF
9:00 Hitting the “sweet spot”: How complex should our data and models be? Ken Bastad, USGS and World Bank
9:20 Biodiversity and abundance of native bees in Alberta: Assessing the status of key ecosystem providers Jessamyn Manson, University of Alberta
9:40 Decisions, decisions, decisions: Using integrated ecosystem service models to inform land-use management in Alberta Tom Habib, ABMI
10:00 Questions and Discussion
10:10 Coffee
10:30 Province-wide assessment of grassland carbon: challenges, opportunities and potential applications Majid Iravani, ABMI
10:50 Can we rescue PES as a tool for sustainability? Kai Chan, UBC
11:10 EVOsystem services Andrew Hendry, McGill University
11:30 Delivering on outcomes, capitalizing on research and knowledge synthesis David Hill, University of Lethbridge
11:50 Questions and Discussion
12:00 Lunch

Abstracts and Speaker Bios


Estimating the economic benefits of biodiversity

Robin Naidoo, Conservation Science Program, WWF US

The conservation of biodiversity can benefit people in a variety of ways, either directly or indirectly, but these benefits often go unrecognized. One reason for this lack of recognition is that it’s difficult to communicate about these benefits in tangible ways that a non-specialist audience can relate to. As with the broader benefits that people derive from nature (“ecosystem services”), the economic valuation of the benefits of biodiversity can help with effective communication, however the science around estimating these benefits requires creative and interdisciplinary approaches. I will discuss, using case studies I’ve been involved with, various attempts to quantify the economic benefits that biodiversity delivers to people. The approaches I will describe can give us an idea of who benefits, and by how much, from the conservation of various elements of biodiversity, and can provide useful information for conservation managers, policymakers and the general public. Robin Naidoo has worked with the Conservation Science Program of World Wildlife Fund since 2004. His research interests span several disciplines in the natural and social sciences, and he has published widely on the conservation and economics of biodiversity and ecosystem services. He has conducted field work on various aspects of biodiversity conservation in North America, Asia and Africa, as well as in South America, where he was the director of research for a non-governmental organization in Paraguay. His current research is largely focused on understanding the ecology, economics, and conservation of wildlife in Namibia’s Community-Based Natural Resources Management program. Robin has a PhD in conservation biology and environmental economics from the University of Alberta, serves on the editorial board of Conservation Letters, and is an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia (Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability) in Vancouver, where he is based. He is also a Research Fellow at the University of East Anglia, (Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment) and an Affiliate at the University of Vermont (Gund Institute for Ecological Economics). His work has been published in a variety of academic journals, including those devoted to conservation, ecology, economics, and interdisciplinary issues.

Hitting the “sweet spot” for ecosystem services assessment: How complex should our data and models be?

Ken Bagstad, Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey

Numerous modeling tools exist to quantify ecosystem services, and a variety of ad hoc mapping approaches have also been used by scientists worldwide. Modeling tools offer the promise of replicability and the potential to compare results across multiple contexts, but sometimes come with the tradeoffs of steeper learning curves and reduced flexibility relative to ad hoc approaches. These methods also have varying levels of complexity, time and technical requirements, and scientific accuracy. At the same time, decision makers are increasingly demanding timely and accurate ecosystem service assessments. Policy needs range from coarse-scale planning and prioritization to fine-scale siting for conservation and development projects and support of payments for ecosystem services programs. These different policy contexts thus also vary in their technical requirements. Through examples from U.S. Federal agencies using ecosystem services in decision making and national governments incorporating ecosystem services into their national accounts, I will illustrate how different data and modeling approaches can address different needs for decision makers, and how scientists can design experimental studies that help us better understand the consequences of choosing different levels of data and model complexity. Dr. Ken Bagstad is a Research Economist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and is currently detailed to the World Bank’s WAVES program. As part of this work, he is conducting assessments globally and advising academic and agency researchers on how to bring ecosystem service analyses into national accounts. Ken uses GIS and modeling tools to quantify, map, and value ecosystem service flows in locations across the United States and globally. He is also working to integrate cultural and biophysical ecosystem services into resource management planning for various U.S. Federal agencies and to understand ecosystem service values associated with migratory species. Selected publications Villa, F., K.J. Bagstad, B. Voigt, G.W. Johnson, R. Portela, M. Honzak, and D. Batker. 2014. A methodology for adaptable and robust ecosystem services assessment. PLoS ONE 9(3):e91001. Bagstad, K.J., F. Villa, D. Batker, J. Harrison-Cox, B. Voigt, and G. Johnson. 2014. From theoretical to actual ecosystem services: Accounting for beneficiaries and spatial flows in ecosystem service assessments. Ecology and Society 19(2):64. Bagstad, K.J., D. Semmens, S. Waage, and R. Winthrop. 2013. A comparative assessment of tools for ecosystem services quantification and valuation. Ecosystem Services 5:27-39.

Biodiversity and abundance of native bees in Alberta: Assessing the status of key ecosystem service providers

Jessamyn Manson, University of Alberta

Native pollinators are essential for maintaining healthy and diverse natural ecosystems, but they also play an important role in the success of many agricultural crops by increasing yield. However, the contribution of native pollinators to crop production has rarely been quantified; moreover, in Alberta we know very little about the native pollinators that provide this important ecosystem service. For the past two years, my research group has been systematically surveying native bees in agroecosystems across the province. We are assessing the diversity and abundance of species in rangelands and canola fields to determine how bee communities vary across space, time and habitat type. This study is a key step towards understanding relationships between native bees and the productivity of our agroecosystems, helping us to develop strategies to support both economically and ecologically sustainable agriculture in Alberta. Dr. Manson’s research focuses on the evolutionary ecology, chemical ecology and community dynamics of plant-insect interactions. In particular, she investigates how the quality, quantity and chemical composition of nectar influences the relationship between flowering plants and their pollinators. Using a combination of controlled laboratory assays and manipulative field experiments, she examines how floral rewards affect pollinator behavior, physiology, health and reproductive success. She also explores how these effects on pollinators affect pollination services for plants. She uses bumble bees as model pollinators because they facilitate reproduction for native wildflowers, agricultural crops and invasive plants.

Decisions, decisions, decisions: Using integrated ecosystem service models to inform land-use management in Alberta

Tom Habib, ABMI

Ecosystem services are the benefits created by natural systems that contribute to our well-being and health. Quantifying ecosystem services is challenging, as it requires detailed, spatially explicit information on both the generation of these services by natural systems (the “biophysical supply”) and their consumption and use by humans (the “socioeconomic demand”). We developed a set of spatially explicit models that link landcover maps, field data, and published literature to map the supply and value of a set of ecosystem services across Alberta: forest timber production, water purification, crop pollination, rangeland forage production, carbon storage, and biodiversity. This integrated suite of models can be used to explore ecosystem service provision and value under alternative land-use management scenarios, such as changing land-use patterns, implementing industry best management practices, and hypothetical environmental policies. Understanding the distribution of these services across the province will provide a more complete accounting of the values provided by our landscapes, and allow us to make better decisions about how we manage our land to balance social, economic, and environmental outcomes. Tom Habib works as a research coordinator with the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI). After growing up in Ottawa, he relocated to Edmonton for his MSc, studying the ecology of chronic wasting disease in white-tailed and mule deer. The common thread in Tom’s research has been using landscape ecology (and more recently, ecosystem services knowledge) to inform land-use planning and environmental decision-making. In his current role at ABMI, Tom leads the development of integrated, spatially-explicit models of ecosystem services provision and value for Alberta. Previous work has included assessing the economic and ecological strengths and weaknesses of alternative strategies for biodiversity offsets, as well as working with Environment Canada to develop conservation plans and identify priority areas for bird species in the western boreal forest.

Province-wide assessment of grassland carbon: challenges, opportunities and potential applications

Majid Iravani, ABMI

Several small-scale experimental studies have assessed grassland carbon storage under different management regimes and climate conditions in western Canada. However, a comprehensive dynamic tool for consistent provincial-scale assessments of grassland carbon remains lacking. Such a process-based tool could support a better understanding of how land management choices and projected climate regimes might impact long-term grassland carbon sequestration in Alberta. The ABMI is developing a comprehensive carbon dynamics model for Alberta’s native grasslands by focusing on two types of grassland organic carbon: carbon stored in the soil and carbon stored in the aboveground plant biomass. Here we present a general overview of the grassland carbon model, and challenges and opportunities for model refinement and validation. As the first province-wide assessment of its kind, the regionalized grassland carbon model will provide a foundation to assess the current status of carbon storage across grassland regions, and predict potential impacts of alternative land management practices and future climate change on grassland carbon storage, as well as the uncertainties associated with these predictions. It will also provide a baseline to assess whether such strategies will lead to resilience of socio-ecological systems in Alberta’s rangelands. Majid Iravani has an MSc in Rangeland Ecology and Management (IUT, Isfahan, Iran) and a PhD in Applied Ecology (ETH Zurich, Switzerland). He joined the ABMI in January 2015 and is involved in the ESA project, establishing a set of soil carbon and forage models for Alberta’s rangelands. Majid brings more than 10 years of research and teaching experience in rangeland ecology and biodiversity conservation and management. He is also well-experienced with the processing, analyzing, interpreting and publishing of complex ecological data using R programming language and spatially explicit process-based models.

Can we rescue PES as a tool for sustainability?

Kai Chan, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, UBC

Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are touted by many as a solution to economic externalities of resource extraction and commodity production, which could improve both social and ecological outcomes. While PES could be a tremendous tool for sustainability, after initial enthusiasm, real-world applications have slowed greatly. In this talk, we revisit several intractable problems associated with common PES designs, and use these as inspiration for several promising opportunities for significant improvements in PES outcomes and uptake. The intractable problems include (1) misplacement of rights and responsibilities, (2) the tradeoff between additionality and fairness, (3) the costly burden of monitoring, and (4) limited applicability and involvement of supply chains. For each problem, I discuss its likely consequences for existing PES programs and conclude that as practiced, PES are not only of limited benefit but also potentially counter to the goals of sustainability. From this dire conclusion, I propose a novel approach to PES that may actually addresses each of the problems. Problems remain, and new ones may arise, but the proposed approach may offer a way to rescue PES as a major tool for conserving and restoring ecosystems and their benefits for people now and in the future. Kai is an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair (tier 2) at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Chan is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented sustainability scientist, trained in ecology, policy, and ethics from Princeton and Stanford Universities. He strives to understand how social-ecological systems can be transformed to be both better and wilder. Kai leads CHAN’S lab (, Connecting Human and Natural Systems; he is a Leopold Leadership Program fellow, a director on the board of the BC chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), a member of the Global Young Academy, a senior fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program, and (in 2012) the Fulbright Canada Visiting Research Chair at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

EVOsystem services

Andrew Hendry, Redpath Museum, McGill University

It is now widely recognized that substantial evolutionary change can occur on contemporary (or “ecological”) time scales. This is the phenomenon of contemporary (or “rapid”) evolution. What we now need to know is the extent to which contemporary evolution shapes ecological dynamics at the population, community, and ecosystem levels. I will outline a conceptual framework for these eco-evolutionary dynamics and illustrate its elements through a series of empirical examples from natural populations. These examples will be also be used to address several key questions in this emerging synthetic research field. I will also present results of a new meta-analysis assessment using a comparison of intra-specific to inter-specific effects to test for the importance of short-term evolution in shaping ecological processes. I will close by providing a set of predictions for when evolution should have important influences on ecological dynamics. Dr. Hendry is a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. He was born in California, grew up in Alberta, went to university in Victoria, did his graduate work in Seattle, and then did postdoctoral work in Vancouver and Massachusetts. His research generally focuses on how evolutionary changes in natural populations, particularly on how rapidly populations can adapt to changing environmental conditions. He has worked on salmon in Alaska and New Zealand, guppies in Trinidad, stickleback fishes in British Columbia, lemon sharks in Bahamas, and Darwin’s finches in Galapagos. Taken as a whole, this work has shown that populations experiencing environmental change can show rapid evolutionary responses that may improve the ability of those populations to persist. Selected publications Faith, D.P., S. Magallón, A.P. Hendry, E. Conti, T. Yahara, and M.J. Donoghue. 2010. Evosystem services: an evolutionary perspective on the links between biodiversity and human well-being. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2:66-74. Hendry, A.P., M.T. Kinnison, M. Heino, T. Day, T.B. Smith, G. Fitt, C. T. Bergstrom, J. Oakeshott, P.S. Jørgensen, M.P. Zalucki, G. Gilchrist, S. Southerton, A. Sih, S. Strauss, R.F. Denison, and S.P. Carroll. 2011. Evolutionary principles and their practical application. Evolutionary Applications 4:159-183. Merilä, J., and A.P. Hendry. 2014. Climate change, evolution, and phenotypic plasticity: the problem and the evidence. Evolutionary Applications 7:1-14. Hendry, A.P., L.G. Lohmann, E. Conti, J. Cracraft, K.A. Crandall, D.P. Faith, C. Häuser, C.A. Joly, K. Kogure, A. Larigauderie, S. Magallón, C. Moritz, S. Tillier, R. Zardoya, A.-H. Prieur-Richard, B.A. Walther, T. Yahara, and M.J. Donoghue. 2010. Evolutionary biology in biodiversity science, conservation, and policy: a call to action. Evolution 64:1517–1528.

Delivering on outcomes, capitalizing on research and knowledge synthesis

David Hill, University of Lethbridge

Prosperity: a successful, flourishing, or thriving condition. Ensuring that future generations can enjoy economic, social and environmental prosperity is a key challenge for elected officials, for industry and business and for society. Growing global populations and ever expanding economic development will increasingly stress the availability of natural resources – in Alberta as well as globally. Finding workable and adaptable solutions to these challenges will require new levels of collaboration, inventive experimentation and ongoing adaptation. Finding new ways to bring together the various and numerous actors and to test out new ideas and approaches that are outcome focussed is a role that is well suited to the academic research community. This presentation explores how some earlier research undertaken in Alberta can be capitalized upon in the development and use of market and exchange activities, designed not only to improve and protect environmental performance, but to meet the needs of increasing populations and economic development. The goal is to develop and implement ongoing processes of seeking out the best “fit-for-the-future” performance and solutions. David Hill currently holds two roles at the University of Lethbridge. He is the new jointly appointed Director of Development for the Southern Alberta Agriculture Program. This initiative brings together and integrates academic training, research and applied research from across the University of Lethbridge as well as the Lethbridge College in the areas of agriculture and agribusiness. The initiative also capitalizes on and enhances existing and new research collaborations with federal, provincial, industry and producer groups in agriculture. He is also the Director of Centres and Institutes and Research Advocacy for the University of Lethbridge. In this role David assists university research institutes and centres in meeting their goals and objectives, in finding new opportunities for trans-disciplinary collaboration between centres and institutes and between the University of Lethbridge and other national and international research universities and organizations. David’s focus is to seek out opportunities to mobilize knowledge and expertise to increase the impact of research outcomes to the benefit of community, business and government. He has more than 40 years of experience in water, agriculture and natural resource management. David was a member of the Alberta Water Council for 9 years from its inception until joining the University of Lethbridge in 2012. He is the Vice-Chair of the ASTech Foundation, a member of the Board of Economic Development Lethbridge and a member of the Board of Inside Education. He also currently serves as the Water Policy Co-Chair for the Pacific Northwest Economic Region. He is a past president of the Canadian Committee on Irrigation and Drainage and has served on the Alberta Endangered Species Conservation Committee, Alberta Environmental Agriculture Council, and a past member of the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy (University of California, Berkeley, 2004-2010).