Mapping Global Ecosystem Degradation and its Impacts

The awareness that ecosystem degradation has detrimental implications for livelihoods, biodiversity and climate change has resulted in the renewed call by policymakers for quantitative information on degradation and the implication on ecosystem functioning as a basis for food, water and energy security, and the cost of rehabilitation. Progress towards agreed policy targets, including restoration of 15% of degraded ecosystems (CBD) or for a zero net degradation (UNCCD) cannot be measured without quantified information. Much research on land degradation over the past decades has given partial views on various components only. We elaborate a methodology to integrate knowledge from various disciplines for quantitative estimates of global land degradation and loss of ecosystem functioning in the past, present and future. Advances in information technology and remote sensing facilitate analysis of massive amounts of remotely sensed and legacy data and the integration with complex quantitative crop, soil and climate modelling into global assessment methods. Changes in net primary production world-wide over the past three decades and geographically specified information on climatic variations, soil and land use provide the basis for identification and mapping of ongoing ecosystem degradation. For identifying and mapping and historical degradation, pristine soil conditions of soil depth, top soil depth, soil organic matter and sand, silt and clay content, are reconstructed through back casting from knowledge about the impact of land use and other soil forming factors on soil characteristics and productivity. Subsequently, the loss -and consequently- restoration potential of ecosystem functions such as water retention, biodiversity maintenance, food and fibre production, and floods, drought and climate regulation, can be assessed by using the global models IMAGE, GLOBIO, LPJmL and PC-GLOB-WB. Costs and benefits of restoration can be estimated based on the global WOCAT database that contains over 450 case studies of location specific conservation measures and their impact on productivity and other ecosystem services.
Bindraban, P. S., Brink, B. T., Bai, Z. G., Bakkenes, M., Van Beek, R., Van Den, M., ... & Temme, A. (2013). Mapping global ecosystem degradation and its impacts.