Biodiversity-driven Nutrient Cycling and Human Well-being in Social-Ecological Systems

  1. FS
  2. PR
  3. FR①
  4. FR②
  5. FR③
  6. FR④
  7. FR⑤

2018

PL Photo Project Leader

OKUDA Noboru

RIHN

My specialty is ecology, the field of study concerned with the relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. One of ecology’s central questions is why humankind should conserve biodiversity. As a member of the Center for Ecological Research at Kyoto University, I have approached this question by integrating different research fields related to biodiversity from gene to ecosystem. At present, I am developing methods for adaptive watershed governance that allow new environmental knowledge to reconcile global, regional, and local ecological issues. I should also say that I love nature and humanity and how they come together very much!

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Sub Leader
YACHI ShigeoKyoto University
Researchers at RIHN
IKEYA TohruResearcher
ISHIBASHI HiroyukiResearcher
ISHIDA TakuyaResearcher
LAMBINO, Ria Adoracion ApostolResearcher
UEHARA YoshitoshiResearcher
WATANABE KirieResearch Associate
Main Members
IWATA TomoyaUniversity of Yamanashi
BAN SyuheiThe University of Shiga Prefecture
OSONO TakashiDoshisha University
TAYASU IchiroRIHN
WAKITA KenichiRyukoku University
ASANO SatoshiLake Biwa Environmental Research Institute
SANTOS-BORJA, Adelina C.Laguna Lake Development Authority, Philippines

Research background and objectives

Figure 1 A conceptual schema of adaptive watershed governance

Figure 1 A conceptual schema of adaptive watershed governance

Technological innovations in the use of nutrients for food production, in particular nitrogen and phosphorus, have allowed global increases in population and economic prosperity in the twentieth century. Overexploitation of nutrient resources, however, affects biogeochemical cycles and can lead to nutrient imbalances, eutrophication and loss of biodiversity. It is now recognized that nutrient imbalances and biodiversity loss are prevalent in watersheds around the world, and pose a risk to sustainable human development.

In spite of such risk, most citizens are not so interested in global environmental issues but are rather concerned about local issues related to their lives and livelihoods. Considering this dissonance in environmental consciousness, we aim to develop a framework for adaptive watershed governance to enhance social-ecological health of watershed system (Fig. 1).

Research methods

Figure 2 A working hypothesis of how biodiversity, nutrient cycling and human well-being are enhanced through the adaptive watershed governance

Figure 2 A working hypothesis of how biodiversity, nutrient cycling and human well-being are enhanced through the adaptive watershed governance

We facilitate stakeholder engagement in community activities in order to enhance biodiversity, nutrient cycling and human well-being, according to our hypothesis that these are three components essential to the social-ecological health of watershed system and, like gears, also interdependently linked into community activities (Fig. 2). We begin with action research to empower members of each community within a watershed to conserve indigenous environmental icons, defined as indigenous nature with special significance to local life and livelihood (Process 1 in Fig. 2). As the value of engaging in such conservation efforts is shared among community members, community-based well-being is altered and reinforced through bonding social capitals in a positive feedback of biodiversity conservation and biodiversity-driven nutrient cycling.

If such community activities enhance nutrient recycling at the watershed scale, they may benefit a variety of stakeholders other than the community members in ways not easily registered by local cultural values but inspired by the social-ecological health of watershed system. In disseminating our scientific understanding of the community dimensions of nutrient recycling, our project will facilitate social involvement in conservation activities as well as green consumption of local products by non-community members who appreciate social-ecological health. Such links accumulate bridging social capital and increase economic incentives (Process 2 in Fig. 2). With this scientific knowledge, community members may also gain institutional support from local governments. Such integration of local and scientific knowledge further enhances community-based well-being, and leads to empowerment of community activities.

To investigate this positive feedback process, we compare consequences of our watershed governance activities in two extreme watersheds in Asia: the Lake Biwa Watershed (Japan) and the Laguna de Bay Watershed (Philippines). The former is an infrastructure-oriented society and the latter a high-nutrient loading society.

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Research progress

Photos 1 Social engagement in biodiversity monitoring in the mid-stream community of the Yasu River sub-watershed

Photos 1 Social engagement in biodiversity monitoring in the mid-stream community of the Yasu River sub-watershed

Figure 3 Annual changes in the number of rice paddies in which eco-friendly farming was practiced. The community members regarded a brown frog as an indigenous environmental icon in 2016

Figure 3 Annual changes in the number of rice paddies in which eco-friendly farming was practiced. The community members regarded a brown frog as an indigenous environmental icon in 2016

We practiced action research in the mid-stream community of the Yasu River sub-watershed of Lake Biwa. Based on exercises to explore the cultural significance of indigenous nature, farmers identified a brown frog as an indigenous environmental icon and practiced eco-friendly farming to conserve its habitat. Monitoring revealed that the brown frog prefers to spawn in rice paddies with winter irrigation. Sharing of cultural values among the community members improved local engagement in conservation activities (Photos 1 & Fig. 3). We also found that eco-friendly farming had positive effects on wetland biodiversity, suggesting that the brown frog can serve as an indicator of local biodiversity as well as of the community-based well-being.

In the Laguna de Bay Watershed, in contrast, recent economic development has led to expansion of residential areas into the mid-stream area of the Silan-Santa Rosa sub-watershed. In downstream urban areas, nutrient loadings and eutrophication have led to significant loss of biodiversity. At present, people within the watershed are dependent on groundwater resources for drinking and irrigation and they are therefore highly concerned about groundwater overexploitation and pollution. Following our assessment of groundwater pollution, a watershed forum will be organized as a platform to discuss sustainable and fair use of groundwater resources. We will also conduct the action research to empower the mid-stream community to conserve a communal spring as an indigenous environmental icon (Photos 2).

Figure 4 The number of rice paddies spawned by brown frog increased with the prevalence of eco-friendly farming

Figure 4 The number of rice paddies spawned by brown frog increased with the prevalence of eco-friendly farming

Photos 2 In the mid-stream community of Silan-Santa Rosa sub-watershed, a communal spring serves as a drinking fountain (a), a chapel (b), a bath (c). Its admission fee is used for a community feast (d). A workshop on the sustainable use of communal spring (e-f)

Photos 2 In the mid-stream community of Silan-Santa Rosa sub-watershed, a communal spring serves as a drinking fountain (a), a chapel (b), a bath (c). Its admission fee is used for a community feast (d). A workshop on the sustainable use of communal spring (e-f)


Perspectives

In developed societies, sewage treatment and tap water infrastructure systems have reduced eutrophication and improved comfort and convenience. Environmental consciousness, however, has receded from the nature of wetlands. What enhances our well-being? Is it enhanced by infrastructure? Our research seeks answers to these questions together with a variety of stakeholders.

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