An associate Professor in the McGill School of Environment and Department of Natural Resources Science at McGill University, Elena Bennett studies ways in which agricultural ecosystems can be managed to ensure sustainable provision of their full range of environmental services, and works to stem the decline of natural ecosystems.
Her research focuses on how different types of ecosystem services interact across the landscape and on managing multiple ecosystem services. Bennett also studies the connection between ecosystem services and human well-being.
Agricultural landscapes can provide multiple ecosystem services, including food, high quality freshwater, opportunities for recreation, and flood control. Yet, a narrow focus on food production can unintentionally undermine the delivery of other key services. Ecosystem services can be a very effective organizing principle for meeting the needs of a growing global population while maintaining resilient provision of other services across landscapes. The very idea of ecosystem services compels us to consider more than one service and obliges us to consider the interactions and relationships among services on the landscape. I will present a new framework to quantitatively link landscape planning, biodiversity, and multiple ecosystem services in southern Quebec. This framework shows how landscape configuration, and especially the connectivity of forest patches in the agricultural and peri-urban milieu, affects biodiversity and the provision of several ecosystem services. I will use this framework to focus on interactions – especially trade-offs – between ecosystem services, and how we can manage these trade-offs to ensure provision of multiple services in multi-functional landscapes. I will also show how similar patterns of trade-offs occur in other “working” landscapes, such as forests, aquaculture areas, etc.
The southern Quebec landscape, like many peri-urban landscapes in Canada, has been through many changes and will certainly continue to change in response to local and regional decision-making as well as pressures from climate change and larger-scale economic forces. Regional planners striving to maintain a healthy, multifunctional landscape need new tools to decide which landscape patterns can best maintain the health of the landscape for the maximum number of stakeholders. In this project, we are working with local and provincial government bodies to develop and use the modeling framework to improve land use decision-making. Working closely with local communities to develop the framework and questions has built strong bridges between groups typically separated (Anglophone McGill and Francophone local community), has enabled the modeling framework to be built to suit local needs, and has fostered strong local interest in the project and its results. Our results are building scientific knowledge about linkages between landscape-level influences on ecosystem change and the provision of multiple ES and, at the same time, improving local management.