Comparing three ecosystem services modelling tools in a diverse UK river catchment

Dr Katrina Sharps explains more about a newly published study in Science of the Total Environment that assesses three different ecosystem services modelling tools...

Ecosystem services - the benefits provided by ecosystems – include provisioning (such as food, fresh water, fibres), regulating (eg nutrient retention, climate regulation) and cultural (eg recreation) services. There is current emphasis on the safeguarding and maintenance of these services for future generations. In response, a wide variety of modelling tools, which allow the quantification, spatial mapping and/or economic valuation of ecosystem services, are being developed.

water flowing quickly

Available tools range in complexity, from basic spreadsheets to those allowing mapping of services and the investigation of how various scenarios may affect service provision. As the variety and capability of these tools increases there is a need for studies that compare the tools, using the same services and study sites, allowing users to make an informed choice of tool.

"As the variety and capability of these tools increases there is a need for studies that compare the tools, using the same services and study sites, allowing users to make an informed choice of tool."

We compared three spatially explicit tools: ARIES (Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services), InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs) and LUCI (Land Utilisation and Capability Indicator).  

Logos of 3 ecosystem services tools called ARIES, InVEST and LUCI 

Using examples of provisioning and regulating services (water supply, carbon storage and nutrient retention), we parameterised the models for the UK and then applied them to a temperate catchment in North Wales. The Conwy catchment is a small catchment in global terms (580 km2) but has a diverse range of elevation, climate and land-uses.

The tools share some common features and, overall, performed similarly in terms of quantitative outputs. However, we wanted to focus on the strengths of each tool and the range of different model outputs that the tools can produce.

For example, for the water supply model, while the tools do provide comparable maps of annual water yield, each tool also produces a variety of other useful outputs.

Maps of Conwy Catchment showing different model outputs for InVEST, LUCI and ARIES

Based on our experience of working with the tools: ARIES allows the customisation of models and is particularly useful when data is scarce, InVEST comes with detailed documentation and example data and has well developed economic valuation models, and LUCI would benefits users seeking fine scale outputs and has a unique trade-off tool. The final choice of tool therefore depends on the study question and user requirements. 

You can read more about our study in the open access paper in Science of the Total Environment.

Katrina Sharps

Additional information

Staff page of Dr Katrina Sharps, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Full paper reference: Sharps et al, 2017. Science of the Total Environment. Comparing strengths and weaknesses of three ecosystem services modelling tools in a diverse UK river catchment. Doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.12.160

Conwy catchment, North Wales, UK, a CEH monitoring site

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