Future Ecosystem Services in a Southern African River Basin: a Scenario Planning Approach to Uncertainty
van Jaarsveld, AS
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Scenario planning is a promising tool for dealing with uncertainty, but it has been underutilized in ecology and conservation. The use of scenarios to explore ecological dynamics of alternative futures has been given a major boost by the recently completed Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a 4-year initiative to investigate relationships between ecosystem services and human well-being at multiple scales. Scenarios, as descriptive narratives of pathways to the future, are a mechanism for improving the understanding and management of ecological and social processes by scientists and decision makers with greater flexibility than conventional techniques could afford. We used scenarios in one of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment's subglobal components to explore four possible futures in a Southern African river basin. Because of its ability to capture spatial and temporal dynamics, the scenario exercise revealed key trade-offs in ecosystem services in space and time and the importance of a multiple-scale scenario design. At subglobal scales, scenarios are a powerful vehicle for communication and engagement of decision makers, especially when designed to identify responses to specific problems. Scenario planning has the potential to be a critical ingredient in conservation as calls are increasingly made for the field to help define and achieve sustainable visions for the future.