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Ecological Exposure Research

Research in Action

Future Midwestern Landscapes Study

• Since the future is unknown, how is it possible to study "Future Midwestern Landscapes"?

When addressing current and future problems, "alternative futures" are sometimes used by scientists, planners and the general public to facilitate analysis or to stimulate creative thinking. Alternative futures may reflect current trends (such as trends in population and land use), projected outcomes of alternative plans or policies, or more hypothetical, "what-if" scenarios. In the Future Midwestern Landscapes Study we are creating alternative futures representing two scenarios.

The Biofuel Targets scenario considers the amount of corn needed to be planted to meet corn grain-based bioethanol requirements for the year 2020, as well as projected population change for that year. A landscape projection based on this scenario has been completed and published ("Midwest U.S. landscape change to 2020 driven by biofuel mandates." Megan Mehaffey, Elizabeth Smith, and Rick Van Remortel, 2012, Ecological Applications 22: 8–19).

The Multiple Services scenario imagines that investments in farm conservation programs in the year 2020 were increased over current levels and were targeted so as to produce more ecosystem services [make this a link to the next “top question” on ecosystem services please]. Like the Biofuel Targets scenario it assumes 2020 levels of population growth, but it assumes that 30-meter wide natural buffers are required along streams in areas of new urban development. The landscape corresponding to this scenario is still being developed.

• What does the term ecosystem services mean?

Put simply, ecosystem services are nature’s benefits – things like clean water, clean air, productive soils and natural places for recreation and inspiration that are provided by healthy ecosystems. A more precise definition identifies ecosystem services as "components of nature [that are] directly enjoyed, consumed or used to yield human well-being” ("What are ecosystem services? The need for standardized environmental accounting units." James Boyd and Spencer Banzhaf, 2007, Ecological Economics 63: 616-626).

• Which ecosystem services will be measured in the Future Midwestern Landscapes Study?

We plan to use models to estimate ecosystem services related to clean air, clean water, productive soil, recreation (such as hunting and bird watching) and mitigation of climate change (via the storage of carbon in plants and soils). These ecosystem services will be estimated for a Base Year landscape (representing the year 2002) and each of the two future landscapes (the Biofuel Targets landscape and the Multiple Services landscape, explained above). Several of the models and datasets required to make these estimates are still under development.

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