A quest for the Holy Grail? Balancing precision and practicality in ecosystem services metrics.
Ecosystems are highly complex. Building tools that allow us to quantify that complexity with certainty and that produce understandable and useable results is a real and pressing challenge in the ecosystem services arena.
A good metric almost always includes credibility, usability, and cost-effectiveness as criteria. To build a credible metric you use the best science to accurately account for how an ecological system functions. Usability and cost-effectiveness is achieved with a metric that is straightforward to use and can be applied with limited resources and time.
Have we launched ourselves on a quest for the Holy Grail? The perfect metric is virtually unattainable given these criteria. An overly simplistic approach will not provide us with an accurate picture of how an ecosystem is functioning. But a metric that is highly complex requires significant time and resources to implement and is unlikely to be used.
How do we balance the need for both precision and practicality when it comes to metrics? Can we argue that while current measurement systems are imperfect, they are better than nothing? Is commitment to long-term monitoring and adaptive management a sufficient strategy to mitigate against the risks of incomplete or imprecise measurement systems? What’s “good enough” when it comes to metrics?
Hundreds of metrics have been developed. It’s now time to re-balance our efforts and focus on robust testing of existing approaches and implementing adaptive management frameworks that will tell us if we’re moving in the right direction to meet conservation goals.