Ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling and water filtration, are benefits provided by nature for free. Because they are difficult to value, many natural systems are being degraded, and nonrenewable resources are being depleted. Some, such as oil and phosphorus, could be gone within decades.
In November, 170 researchers from various disciplines attended The National Academies (Washington, D.C.) Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) in Irvine, Calif. For 2 days, 14 groups of researchers met to tackle nine ecosystem service challenges. Groups discussed such issues as international trade, ecosystem policies, public outreach, and more. A science-writing scholar accompanied each team, recording a summary of the discussion.
On May 7, NAKFI awarded
$1 million to 12 ecosystem services projects developed by attendees of the November conference.
Kristina Twigg, assistant manager at the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.), participated as a science-writing scholar with interdisciplinary team 2, which also included Paul Westerhoff, who serves on a Water Environment Research Foundation (Alexandria) expert panel, and WEF member Berrin Tansel.
The team discussed producing renewable resources on a massive scale, focusing primarily on phosphorus. To maintain pace with needs for high-yield agriculture, phosphorus is mined at an unsustainable rate, and scientists project that supplies could be depleted within a few decades, according to NAKFI.
The greatest loss of phosphorus from agricultural systems is due to stormwater runoff. Phosphorus also is found in large quantities in human and animal waste. Its removal from these sources represents the second greatest loss of phosphorus from the system. Of the options discussed by the team, recovering phosphorus from waste streams at wastewater treatment plants and concentrated animal-feeding operations seemed most feasible.
The conference proceedings, which contain summaries from each of the 14 teams' findings, are available online