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Prioritization for adaption to climate and socio-economic changes - Backcasting tolerable future states to match supply and demand for ecosystem services in mountainous areas

Mountain ecosystems are fragile and provide a range of crucial services to society. The provision of ecosystem services is strongly influenced by human actions and climate change. Existing research, however, does not fully bridge the spatially explicit supply and demand of ES, often neglects cultural services and provides only sparse knowledge on how to enhance long-term sustainable development given complex collective-action problems.


The ‹Mountland› project started in 2008 with the goal to establish a research network analyzing the provision of mountain ecosystem goods and services under global change in an integrative framework. The main interdisciplinary results from the first phase of the project were published in three special issues. A Special Feature in Ecology&Society provides a scientific summary and synthesis of the project findings. A Special Issue in the Swiss Forestry Journal (in German) summarizes our findings with respect to forestry and builds an important basis for our dialogue with stakeholders from the forestry sector. The main findings with respect to agriculture were published in a Special Issue of the Agrarforschung (in German and French). A full list of publications can be found here.

Goal of the project

The primary goal of ‹Mountland› is to provide management and policy options that support society including policymakers and ecosystem managers to make choices in order to promote and improve sustainable development. This project will go beyond existing research by using a backcasting approach which combines envisioned future tolerable states with the current system boundaries required to get to this shared future conditions. The research project will lead to a) a better understanding of current land-use transition processes using an interlinked set of models; b) integrate the spatially explicit supply and demand for ecosystem services including cultural services under consideration of transdisciplinary knowledge; and c) a set of strategies reconciling the long-term goals of a sustainable development of mountainous regions with often rather short-term oriented individual and collective actions.

Conceptual Background

We use a backcasting approach which combines envisioned future tolerable states with the current system boundaries required to get to this shared future conditions. Only a few studies have taken a reverse approach looking backwards from a defined future to the present in order to strategize and to plan how it could be achieved. It is such an approach recognizing the systemic nature of the challenges ahead and supporting the development of systemic societal, economical, and political transitions necessary to develop purposeful actions for securing the long-term provision of mountain ecosystem services that ‹Mountland› is focusing on. Most importantly, we will develop shared future boundary conditions necessary for securing the provision of the desired ecosystem services in an inter- and transdisciplinary participatory process based on intense cooperation with stakeholders from the regions and backcast these future states to current system boundary conditions linking experimental and modeling studies. Beginning with the future (and not with today’s situation to predict future development) can play a key role in shaping the rate and direction of the socio-economic transitions avoiding to transfer of our current problems to the future and thus providing a legitimization for the mobilization of scientific, financial, institutional and political resources and capacities to support and maintain the functioning mountain ecosystems.

More information on the Tasks is available.

Study Regions

We will focus on the same three study areas proposed in the first phase of the project: Davos, Central Valais, and Jura. The regions are relevant geographic areas for Switzerland that differ strongly in climate and land-use history and differ in their specific sensitivities to climate change and therefore in the socio-economic impacts of such change. More importantly, the adherence to the existing sites fosters the collaboration between tasks and disciplines and avoids a further fragmentation of research. Furthermore, the existing collaboration with stakeholders can be maintained and many databases, and modeling results are already in place, and results feed directly into this project.

More information on the Study Regions is available.

Figure 2: Study Regions
Figure 2: Study Regions
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