Applying economic benefit transfer to improve the transfer of ecological estimates in ecosystem services research & policy Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/47429d84c

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  • The goal of this thesis is to advance the methodology and thought regarding the transferability of ecological estimates of ecosystem services. Conceptually and in practice, ecological estimate transfer parallels economic benefit transfer in ecosystem services research and policy, yet the literature for benefit transfer predates ecological estimate transfer by several decades. The economic benefit transfer literature has identified context similarity to be a major prerequisite for the accurate transfer of economic estimates. This thesis applies approaches and lessons learned from economic benefit transfer to develop a framework for conducting ecological estimate transfers and a structure for describing ecological contexts. Despite the need and utility of ecological estimate transfers for data-limited ecosystem services research and policy there lacks a consistent method for evaluating such transfers across contexts. This thesis proposes a framework for describing and evaluating contextual variables in order to add consistency and rigor to transferability practices. Such guidance is needed in order to assess the need for more sophisticated treatment of uncertainty and error. The relationships between structural or ecological elements (i.e., context) and specific ecological processes (i.e, the data generating processes, or production functions) may be numerous and complex, however, broadly the nature and existence of ecological processes may be described in terms of its scale and location, termed here the ‘contextual reference frame’. The contextual reference frame is proposed in this thesis as a structure for ecological contexts and basis for transferability assessment to identify and explore sources of transfer error. Assumptions and challenges inherent in transferability assessment are illustrated in a case study of benthic microalgal primary production (BMPP) estimates, which reflects data and parameter transfers used in fisheries-habitat ecosystem service assessments. The case study applies the framework approach to qualitatively and quantitatively explore contextual variables and determine a basis to transfer estimates from the literature to a hypothetical policy site. The case study highlights the relative utility of simple univariate (ANOVA) and more complex multivariate classification methods (CART) analysis. This thesis finds that the proposed framework facilitates the representation of the major sources of error and uncertainty associated with transfers. Benefit transfer practices have increased the awareness and exploration of transferability limitations in policy and research applications. Use of the framework can promote analogous awareness and future research may increase the consistency and reliability of ecological estimate transfers. The case study finds that future research should focus on replicating transferability tests across contextual levels and variables to develop better indicators of transfer reliability and define acceptable limits of transfer error and uncertainty.
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