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The role of the atmosphere in the provision of ecosystem services

Cooter, Ellen J., Rea, Anne, Bruins, Randy, Schwede, Donna, Dennis, Robin
The Science of the total environment 2013 v.448 pp. 197-208
agricultural land, air, air quality, atmosphere, biomass, crops, decision making, ecological function, ecosystem services, ecosystems, fertilizer application, foods, forests, models, ozone, particulates, people, problem solving, production functions, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi
Solving the environmental problems that we are facing today requires holistic approaches to analysis and decision making that include social and economic aspects. The concept of ecosystem services, defined as the benefits people obtain from ecosystems, is one potential tool to perform such assessments. The objective of this paper is to demonstrate the need for an integrated approach that explicitly includes the contribution of atmospheric processes and functions to the quantification of air–ecosystem services. First, final and intermediate air–ecosystem services are defined. Next, an ecological production function for clean and clear air is described, and its numerical counterpart (the Community Multiscale Air Quality model) is introduced. An illustrative numerical example is developed that simulates potential changes in air–ecosystem services associated with the conversion of evergreen forest land in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia to commercial crop land. This one-atmosphere approach captures a broad range of service increases and decreases. Results for the forest to cropland conversion scenario suggest that although such change could lead to increased biomass (food) production services, there could also be coincident, seasonally variable decreases in clean and clear air–ecosystem services (i.e., increased levels of ozone and particulate matter) associated with increased fertilizer application. Metrics that support the quantification of these regional air–ecosystem changes require regional ecosystem production functions that fully integrate biotic as well as abiotic components of terrestrial ecosystems, and do so on finer temporal scales than are used for the assessment of most ecosystem services.