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PeerJ. 2016 Dec 22;4:e2814. doi: 10.7717/peerj.2814. eCollection 2016.

Impacts of land-use management on ecosystem services and biodiversity: an agent-based modelling approach.

Author information

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Instutite , Edmonton , Alberta , Canada.
Alberta Innovates Technology Futures , Edmonton , Alberta , Canada.
Green Analytics , Guelph , Ontario , Canada.
Silvacom Ltd. , Edmonton , Alberta , Canada.


The science of ecosystem service (ES) mapping has become increasingly sophisticated over the past 20 years, and examples of successfully integrating ES into management decisions at national and sub-national scales have begun to emerge. However, increasing model sophistication and accuracy-and therefore complexity-may trade-off with ease of use and applicability to real-world decision-making contexts, so it is vital to incorporate the lessons learned from implementation efforts into new model development. Using successful implementation efforts for guidance, we developed an integrated ES modelling system to quantify several ecosystem services: forest timber production and carbon storage, water purification, pollination, and biodiversity. The system is designed to facilitate uptake of ES information into land-use decisions through three principal considerations: (1) using relatively straightforward models that can be readily deployed and interpreted without specialized expertise; (2) using an agent-based modelling framework to enable the incorporation of human decision-making directly within the model; and (3) integration among all ES models to simultaneously demonstrate the effects of a single land-use decision on multiple ES. We present an implementation of the model for a major watershed in Alberta, Canada, and highlight the system's capabilities to assess a suite of ES under future management decisions, including forestry activities under two alternative timber harvest strategies, and through a scenario modelling analysis exploring different intensities of hypothetical agricultural expansion. By using a modular approach, the modelling system can be readily expanded to evaluate additional ecosystem services or management questions of interest in order to guide land-use decisions to achieve socioeconomic and environmental objectives.


Agent-based modelling; Agriculture; Biodiversity; Cellular automata; Ecological economics; Ecosystem services; Land-use planning; Simulation modelling; Systems modelling; Watersheds

Conflict of interest statement

Scott Heckbert is an employee of Alberta Innovates, Jeffrey Wilson is an employee of Green Analytics, and Andrew Vandenbroeck is an employee of Silvacom Ltd. The remaining authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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