Report of the 2nd Meeting of SENSE Research Cluster XIII: Spatial development and sustainability of ecosystems and landscapes.

On December 1st 2010, our fellow cluster members in Amsterdam, at the IVM (VU University) were kind enough to host the second Research Cluster XIII meeting. Jan Vermaat welcomed us to the institute, on behalf of Peter Verburg and Pieter van Beukering, who, unfortunately, couldn’t attend. Dolf de Groot, the cluster’s coordinator together with Paul Opdam, welcomed the 25 attendants to the meeting. Slides of his introduction can be downloaded here. Among other things, Dolf pointed out this second meeting builds mainly on the questions and discussion points that were raised during the first Research Cluster XIII meeting (report can be downloaded here). After analysing the common playground of the cluster, Dolf suggested that the overarching topic which “binds us all” would be ecosystem and landscape services. He also said that, within the cluster, research could be roughly divided into three fields, related to ecosystem and landscape services: 1) Biophysical and ecological aspects; 2) Valuation and perception; and 3) Intervention, planning and design. Introduction by Dolf de GrootWhether this subdivision would be needed, however, was a question he left open. Further thoughts on how to present “what binds us all” to the outside world were welcomed. It was also pointed out that the number of researchers and institutes that have become more actively involved has increased steadily. Finally, the relation with the other research clusters of SENSE was touched upon. Mainly clusters IV and VI, but perhaps also XIV (global environmental change) will continue to have relevance for many of us. It is, however, important, that the clusters will remain complementary; we shouldn’t organise overlapping events.

Alexander van Oudenhoven spoke about what came out of the cluster’s kick-off meeting, held in June 2010 (presentation downloadable here). Together with Katalin Petz, Alexander helps Paul Opdam and Dolf de Groot with the coordination of the cluster. They are responsible for the organisation of meetings as well as in moderating the cluster’s website. After outlining how we went about activating the research cluster members (“from excel sheet to a group of enthusiastic researchers”), the main outcomes of the previous meeting were highlighted. During that meeting we agreed that the cluster can assist us both personally and professionally. If updated regularly, the cluster offers information on “who is who” – an easy and secure (private) way to stay in touch with fellow researchers. Moreover, it was concluded that through the cluster we could organise skills-development events. Another important finding was that the cluster can assist in locating your own research – where you “belong” in this large, interdisciplinary field. Finally, as the way forward, Alexander mentioned the possibilities of organising a writing / reading weekend, joint papers, an annual PhD day with presentations from colleagues, workshops around PhD defences, and a PhD course on ecosystem services. The “friendly warning” was, once again, issued that fellow cluster-members are strongly encouraged not to lean back and expect us to fix it, because “we will spam you” and ask for your cooperation.

Next, Renske Terhürne, the SENSE communication officer, got us “in the Moodle” with a short presentation of what can be done with the Moodle server, an open-source learning environment. Moodle has many promising features such as: sharing literature, opening discussions, sharing news (job notifications, conferences, etc.), and editing notifications. However, once again the success of the site depends entirely on who uses it and how it is used. Our cluster is a “test case” and since we are the first ones using it we are all kindly requested to provide feedback to Alexander and Katalin. Two practical notes: 1) If you don't have an account yet, you can either continue watching the site as a guest or create a new account (have a look here to create one), and 2) Everyone is automatically subscribed for items such as the news and the discussion forum. Receiving notifications and other preferences can be edited in your personal profile.

Fellow research cluster members meeting each other during the speed-dateAfter the speed-date, during which many lively discussions were started up and ideas were born, the floor was given to Derek van Berkel. He is a PhD student working at IVM on ecosystem services in relation to rural development. Whenever visiting different institutes, we aim to have one or two “host researchers” present their work, in order to get a feel for the main activities of the hosting institute. Derek presented research he conducted for a paper, titled "Sensitising rural policy: Assessing spatial variation in rural development options for Europe" (downloadable here). The paper was a result of debates on what to do with Europe’s common agricultural policy (CAP). As identified by Kienast et al. (2009), Europe’s agricultural ecosystem services that could be assessed on a continental scale were: food production (productive agriculture), raw materials (off-farm work), tourism, and habitat (nature conservation). Derek presented mapped results for productive agriculture and tourism, based on an expert-based methodology. After discussing the strengths and weakness of these mapping exercises, Derek responded to a question on what he had learnt during the research: “You have to cut if off at times, perfectionism isn’t everything. Otherwise there is the risk of your study just remaining an academic debate, whereas in reality you cannot include everything and practical choices have to be made.” His presentation can be downloaded here.

Jan Vermaat provided the second presentation, about ongoing research on the economic valuation of ecosystem services. This certainly is a hot topic, with publications and citations exploding since the late 1990’s. After taking us through a number analytical frameworks and discussions on definitions, Jan argued that it’s difficult to delineate what services are provided where, why and by whom. This distinction is often not as straightforward as the analytical framework suggests it to be, i.e. the theory and practice of ecosystem services can differ significantly. Jan provided several examples of ecosystem services that have been valued economically, such as nutrient retention in water, fisheries, storm protection, and carbon sequestration. He furthermore stressed the importance of collecting more empirical data as well as information on the longer term relations between beneficiaries and providers of ecosystem services. According to Jan, the concept of ecosystem services is as strong as its weakest link and currently that would be the interface between policy-making and the ecosystem / landscape. Assisting decision making (e.g. through cost-benefit analyses (CBA’s) that help to maximize benefits) is one of the main reasons why valuing ecosystem services is essential. Furthermore, valuation can serve to advocate a certain idea (like Costanza et al. did in 1997), to assess damages caused by oil spills and other industrial activities, and to help calculating potential revenues (e.g. through tourism and the willingness to pay (WTP) for nature conservation). At the close of Jan’s interesting talk, it was pointed out that some very informative reports on the scientific basis of economic valuation of ecosystem services and other related topics can be found on the website of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study. That website can be found here, the presentation by Jan Vermaat here.

The final topics that needed to be dealt with were the realisation of a Summer School and an annual PhD day. Dolf de Groot announced that there were plans of organising a Summer (or Autumn) School just before the conference “Ecosystem Services. From science to practice” in Wageningen, which will be held between October 4 and 7th, 2011. The conference will be organised partly by Wageningen University, and it was suggested that some of the speakers could also be “used” for the Summer School beforehand. It was concluded that the topics of quantifying, mapping, modelling and valuing ecosystem services should become key topics for the Summer School, thereby leaving planning and management, financing instruments and policy / institutional aspects behind for the moment. Dolf de Groot (Wageningen University) and Peter Verburg (IVM, VU Amsterdam) will be responsible for the development of the course, so feel free to contact them about your suggestions. It was, for instance, proposed to link the summer school to the conference (presenting results) and to tackle an actual case during the course. The balance between group work and inspiring lectures was also discussed, and we invite you to continue to discuss that with us! Dolf's presentation can be dowloaded here, in which he first reflects on Jan Vermaat's presentation and then discusses the Summer School.

The next opportunity to meet each other will be in Utrecht, in early May, during our (first) annual PhD-day! We found two very enthusiastic ladies that were willing to organise the PhD-day. During the day you will have the opportunity to meet fellow researchers, present your work in an appealing way and develop skills that are much needed for us PhD-students. More info will follow very soon.

Alexander van Oudenhoven (

Last modified: Thursday, 3 March 2011, 1:32 PM