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Characterization of ecosystem services associated with deep-sea habitats and natural stormwater treatment systems and their incorporation into environmental management


We, as a society, are notoriously bad at finding balance between extraction of natural resources and environmental protection. The concept of ecosystem services, the direct and indirect benefits derived from the environment, attempts to ameliorate these failures by linking natural processes to human well-being. The goal of this dissertation was to explore approaches for characterizing ecosystem services and to identify how they can be incorporated into environmental management. To do this, I used two groups of systems subject to human impact, deep-sea habitats and natural stormwater treatment systems (NTS), that provided a suite of characteristics with which to compare and contrast (e.g. marine versus terrestrial, level of human impact, ease of access). While deep-sea habitats and NTS provide some of the same ecosystem services, the structures and functions that support them can differ. Mechanisms for incorporating this information into environmental decision-making differ among systems as well. As interest in deep-sea natural resources continues to grow, environmental decision-makers have the novel opportunity to employ an ecosystem services approach, prior to commercial exploitation in cases such as mining. In comparing molecular and morphology-based methods for assessment and monitoring of deep-sea biodiversity, I examined scientific and economic tradeoffs between the two to suggest a combined approach as most cost-effective when considering future environmental requirements. I also leveraged existing deep-sea imagery and biological trait analysis to evaluate fisheries services and climate-regulating services related to carbon at methane seeps off southern California, identifying the Del Mar seep as the largest contributor to ecosystem services. In contrast to the seemingly untouched deep sea, NTS are human-designed to mimic physical and biological processes, which can generate ecosystem services such as climate-regulating services related to carbon. I found that, although urban greenspaces are not carbon sinks, NTS and natural areas are more carbon-efficient than grass lawns and horticultural gardens. NTS present a unique opportunity to manipulate natural structures and functions for targeted benefits, such as carbon sequestration and storage. Together, this body of work serves to operationalize ecosystem services in a multitude of contexts with practical applications.

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