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Title: Assessing the effects of payments for ecosystem services programs on forest structure and species biodiversity
Globally, biodiversity has declined at an unprecedented rate, challenging the viability of ecosystems, species, and ecological functions and their corresponding services. Payments for ecosystem services (PES) programs have been established and implemented worldwide to combat the degradation or loss of essential ecosystems and ecosystem services with-out sacrificing the well-being of people. With an overarching goal of reducing soil ero-sion, China’s Grain-to-Green program (GTGP) converts cropland to forest or grassland. As one of the largest PES programs in the world, GTGP has great potential to offer biodi-versity conservation co-benefits. To consider how GTGP may influence biodiversity, we measured forest structure and plant and wildlife species diversity at both GTGP forest and natural forest sites in Fangjingshan National Nature Reserve, China. We also evaluated the relationship between canopy cover and biodiversity measures to test whether forest cover, the most commonly measured and reported ecological metric of PES programs, might act as a good proxy for other biodiversity related parameters. We found that forest cover and species diversity increased after GTGP implementation as understory and overstory plant cover, and understory and midstory plant diversity at GTGP sites were similar to natural forest. Our results suggest that GTGP may also have been associated with increased habitat for protected and vulnerable wildlife species including Elliot’s pheasant (Syrmaticus elli-oti), hog badger (Arctonyx collaris), and wild boar (Sus scrofa). Nevertheless, we identi-fied key differences between GTGP forest and natural forest, particularly variation in forest types and heterogeneity of overstory vegetation. As a result, plant overstory diversity and wildlife species richness at GTGP forest were significantly lower than at natural forest. Our findings suggest, while forest cover may be a good proxy for some metrics of forest struc-ture, it does not serve as a robust proxy for many biodiversity parameters. These findings highlight the need for and importance of robust and representative indicators or proxy vari-ables for measuring ecological effects of PES programs on compositional and structural diversity. We demonstrate that PES may lead to biodiversity co-benefits, but changes in program implementation could improve the return on investment of PES programs to sup-port conservation of biodiversity.  more » « less
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Biodiversity and conservation
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National Science Foundation
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