ISU – A new modelling approach to ecosystem services takes Bilbao by storm!!

The urban working group

The urban working group

Between March 10th and March 22nd of 2013, people from all corners of the world took part in the 1st International Spring University (ISU) on Ecosystem Services Modelling (ES-M). The 2-week intensive course was designed to empower a new generation of actors, in research, environmental science, policy and management, who could have a greater impact through the use of ecosystem service (ES) models to address climate change, natural hazards and sustainability problems. ISU instruction focused on advanced ES modelling techniques and employed a problem-based paradigm via case studies which were defined by the course participants. The course was a unique opportunity for both instructors and participants to learn from each other.

The ISU was organized by the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), the UNESCO Chair on “Sustainable Development and Environmental Education” of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and The City Council of Bilbao, in collaboration with Conservation International, Earth Economics, and the University of Vermont.

ISU organizers identified 5 case study themes around which the course was focused. The themes were selected based on instructor experience and the application materials supplied by the participants prior to the start of the course. The five themes included:

  • Agricultural systems & food security: aiming to assess the trade‐offs between ES provided by natural and agricultural systems.
  • Ecosystem Services in Latin America: aiming to model a suite of ES in Latin America, with specific emphasis on the exploration of the trade‐offs between biodiversity, water supply and carbon sequestration and storage.
  • Marine and Island systems: aiming to model ES spanning the terrestrial to marine interface in an effort to value the economic benefits/costs that different social groups might obtain.
  • Mountain systems and cultural landscapes: Aiming to explore the trade-offs between different types of cultural, regulating and provisioning ES values.
  • Urban systems: aiming to quantify and integrate the parameters associated with provisioning and regulating services in an urban setting, with the goal of identifying linkages between urban and rural landscapes for improving/sustaining the delivery of ES to urban populations.
ISU participants and organizers at the Guggenheim Museum

ISU participants and organizers at the Guggenheim Museum

Participants were allocated to work on a theme according to their expertise and interest. Each group was assigned the task of developing a set of ES models linked to their theme. The diversity of backgrounds, both geographical and professional, ensured a continuous flow of interesting and instructive discussions about the latest developments in ES modelling techniques, and common difficulties encountered by participants (and their home institutions) when attempting to foster sustainability through the use, management and regulation of ES.

Furthermore, the course was luxuriously cushioned by the beautiful settings of Bilbao, well known for its hidden delights, and paramount hospitality.

In a nutshell, the 1st annual ISU was a very successful international exchange on “advanced modelling techniques” and serves as the first steps towards an emerging ES modelling community. The development of such a community offers an excellent opportunity to improve our understanding of ES and the myriad of approaches that can be taken to model and quantify them.

If any of the above has tickled your curiosity, you can join in the continuing activity taking place on the ISU forum.  If you are interested in taking part in a future edition of the ISU, keep a watch on regular updates at the ISU website, or send an email expressing your interest to

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