Mapping and Assessment of changes in ecosystem service delivery - a historical perspective on the Tweed catchment, Scotland - UK

  • Sikhululekile Ncube

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    For centuries, river catchments and their constituent habitats have been altered and modified through various human activities to maximise provision of tangible benefits like food and water, while impacting on their capacity to provide other less obvious but equally important benefits for human survival. However, in the last few decades, perceptions on the role of catchments as mere providers of tangible benefits have been changing, as recognition has been given to other human beneficial services like regulation of floods. This recognition has drawn increased interest in both science and policy, towards understanding human-nature relations and how approaches like the ecosystem services concept can inform sustainable management of catchments.

    Although, the multiple and differently weighted relationships existing between habitats and ecosystem services have been acknowledged, the relationship between spatio-temporal change in habitats and spatio-temporal change in ecosystem services delivery, has not received as much attention in the research literature. In this thesis, it is argued that this is an important omission as spatio-temporal habitat change could have broader consequences for ecosystem services provided by a catchment. On this basis, this study maps and assesses the influence of habitat changes across space and time on ecosystem services delivery at a local catchment scale.

    Approaches to assessing ecosystem service delivery across landscapes and catchments draw on habitat mapping data for those landscapes or catchments. Such data are in turn used as proxies for estimating different ecosystem services delivered by the landscape or catchment based on their integration with other spatial or non-spatial data. To date this approach has been applied to assess contemporary delivery of different ecosystem services. The basis of the approach taken in this study involved comparing a pre-existing contemporary ecosystem service assessment of two chosen sub catchments of the Tweed catchment in Scotland, with a similar assessment based on a set of older “historic” habitat maps for the mid-20th century period. Derivation of the digital map base for the latter was a major focus of the present study.

    Aerial photography taken during the Royal Air Force surveys in the 1940s archived in the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland were obtained and first scanned digitally, arranged into a mosaic of adjacent images and ortho-rectified to remove camera distortion. These photo mosaics were then visually interpreted and, aided with ancillary data, the current (2009) habitat maps were edited and backdated to derive the historic habitat maps for the study catchments. The Spatial Evidence for Natural Capital Evaluation (SENCE) ecosystem services mapping approach was then used to translate generated habitat maps into ecosystem service supply maps.

    Findings show that the study catchments changed from multifunctional to intensively managed landscapes by 2009, with a higher capacity for supplying provisioning ecosystem services, while their capacity to supply regulating and supporting ecosystem services was reduced. Findings also show that a change in one habitat type results in changes in multiple ecosystem services, while changes in the spatial configuration of habitats reduces areas with high supply capacity for regulating and supporting ecosystem services. This study concludes that ecosystem service delivery is not only affected by changes in gross area of constituent habitats but also by spatial changes in the configuration and distribution of these habitats. In this regard, it is argued that recognising and understanding changes in ecosystem services adds an important strand in catchment management. It is therefore suggested that planning for future ecosystem services in catchment management needs to be informed by historic baselines.
    Date of Award2016
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorChris Spray (Supervisor) & Alistair Geddes (Supervisor)


    • Ecosystem services
    • River catchments
    • Spatio-temporal change
    • Mapping
    • Historic
    • Aerial photography

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