A Nature Conservancy researcher showed how six of the world’s great river systems benefit people by putting food on the table, moderating the weather, slowing down climate change and regulating flooding during a presentation today at the International Conference on Rivers and Civilization in La Crosse, Wis.
Paul West, associate science director for the Conservancy’s Great Rivers Center for Conservation and Learning, a virtual science center created to house and share important research on major rivers, presented his analysis at the conference during a Conservancy-led session on ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are benefits that people derive from nature such as food, clean water and flood control.
The Great Rivers Center for Conservation and Learning is a part of the Conservancy’s Great Rivers Partnership, which is based in Peoria, Ill. The Great Rivers Partnership guides the Conservancy’s efforts to conserve river systems in three countries – the Yangtze River in China, the Paraguay and Paraná rivers in Brazil and the Mississippi River in the United States.
Based in Madison, Wis., West has used a computer model developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to analyze the benefits provided by 80 major rivers located on every continent except Antarctica. Using existing data, he has assessed river basins for their ability to provide four ecosystem services: climate regulation, crop yield, flood regulation and carbon storage. West presented his findings on six river basins: the Mississippi, the Paraná in Brazil, China’s Yangtze, and Europe’s Danube River, Africa’s Zambezi and the Murray-Darling in Australia.
West’s analysis shows that areas which ranked high in Conservancy-led conservation assessments due to abundance and diversity of native plants and animals also contribute substantially to local flood and climate regulation. West’s research finds that by protecting high-quality natural areas within river basins, people can continue to receive crucial benefits.
West plans to do additional analysis to assess the effect of all 80 river systems on water quality and water quantity and to identify areas within each river basin that provide the most significant benefits to people and the native plants and animals that depend on them.
“The long-term integrity of our world’s great rivers is largely going to be influenced by decisions made on the basis of food production and water quality and water availability. By focusing in on those services, we’ll be able to look at how land-based conservation can meet people’s needs and conserve terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity,” West said.
Jon Foley, the director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, which developed the computer model West used for his analysis, said that such tools “allow us to bring the very latest science to practical questions of conservation and environmental management.”
“By looking at ecological services across a large region – including protected areas, agricultural land, and urban areas – we ultimately can look for solutions that improve the quality of the environment, the economy, and human welfare,” Foley said.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.