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Applying the social–ecological systems framework to the evaluation and design of payment for ecosystem service schemes in the Eurasian steppe

Addison, J., Greiner, R.
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.12 pp. 2421-2440
arid lands, case studies, cultural values, ecosystem services, grazing, land use, landscapes, species diversity, steppes, viability
The application of payment for ecosystem services schemes to dryland areas has been limited, particularly for schemes that seek to improve the grassland upon which resource users in these landscapes depend. The high levels of climatic and resource variability, strength of informal institutions governing resource use and contested nature of resource decline are examples of defining characteristics that may challenge the application of more conventional payment for ecosystem services schemes in dryland contexts. We used a social–ecological systems framework to (i) help identify design criteria for effective and efficient payment for ecosystem services schemes in drylands under a pastoral land-use, and (ii) explore the applicability of the framework to dryland areas. Using eco-compensation schemes in the Chinese governed areas of the Eurasian steppe as a case study, we found that the framework adequately identified the need for non-equilibrium dynamics to be incorporated into scheme design. However, the framework was less able to explicitly enunciate the importance of micro-economics and cultural values for scheme viability. In contexts like the Eurasian steppe where some level of grazing may maximise the species richness of grasslands, acknowledging history of use in the resource unit subsystem component of the framework, not just the user subsystem component, would improve the framework. The explicit incorporation of contested issues into the framework is also needed, as dryland areas have a history of being misunderstood by non-dryland cultures, researchers and policymakers. We conclude that tailoring a general diagnostic tool towards the specific social–ecological attributes of the drylands under a pastoral land-use will improve the ability of payment for ecosystem services schemes to reach their conservation aims.