Ecosystem Service Modelling

Ecosystem services are the benefits humankind derives from a range of ecosystem processes. We are developing a range of models to analyse the impacts of land management and climate change on multiple ecosystem services, including flood risk, agricultural productivity, water quality, biodiversity, erosion, cultural services, green-house gas emissions, and amenity/socio-economic impacts. We are also developing methods to identify where trade-offs or co-benefits (win-wins) between different ecosystem services exist, and exploring ways to effectively visualise and promote information exchange between scientists and stakeholders with local knowledge and requirements.

General Projects

LUCI: Developing a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Tool

LUCI (Land Utilisation and Capability Indicator) explores the capability of a landscape to provide a variety of ecosystem services, such as agricultural production, erosion control, carbon sequestration, flood mitigation, habitat provision etc.  It compares the services provided by the current utilisation of the landscape to estimates of its potential capability, and uses this information to identify areas where change might be beneficial, and where maintenance of the status quo might be desirable.

LUCI is a second generation extension and accompanying software implementation of the Polyscape framework as described in:

Jackson et al. (2013). Polyscape: a GIS mapping toolbox providing efficient and spatially explicit landscape-scale valuation of multiple ecosystem services. Urban and Landscape Planning, 112, 74-88.

Polyscape originated to enable better spatial planning of land management interventions for the delivery of multiple ecosystem services. LUCI considers agricultural productivity, flood regulation, water harvesting, carbon sequestration, sediment regulation, habitat connectivity and other surrogate metrics for biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, cultural services and visual amenity. It also identifies where trade-offs or co-benefits in ecosystem services exist. The LUCI model is being used in a range of projects in NZ and the UK.

These include:

  • a project funded by the fertiliser cooperative Ravensdown, developing capability to target fertiliser application and nutrient mitigation measures in the landscape;
  • projects with Natural England and the UK Department of Food and Rural Affairs  to identify where farm management interventions might be able to improve water resources, carbon sequestration and biodiversity whilst minimising loss of agricultural production; and
  • a Natural Environment Research Council project to identify the impact of land management spatial configurations on ecosystem service delivery.

The Welsh Government is using LUCI within a £9M (~18M NZD) project to identify trade-offs and co-benefits and to project the potential outcomes of farmer interventions so that agricultural subsidies can be better targeted.

When different land management options are inputted into LUCI, ‘traffic light’ coded impact maps are produced in seconds to minutes to allow rapid visualisation of the impact of the change. Interactive capabilities enable local requirements to be incorporated in decision making.

The tool is currently being applied in the Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty and Wairarapa regions of New Zealand, over the entirety of Wales, in a variety of catchments in England, and in Vermont, USA. Projects are also starting in the Philippines, Samoa and Australia from January 2015. Previous applications of the original Polyscape framework were carried out in Wales, Greece and Ghana, and earlier versions of LUCI have also been applied in Nepal.

More information can be found on the lucitools website and here.

This work is carried out in close collaboration with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, part of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).


Emmett, B.A. et al. inc Jackson, B.M. (2014). Glastir Monitoring & Evaluation Programme. First year annual report (CEH Project no. NEC04780, pp. 242). Bangor, UK: NERC/Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Jackson, B., Pagella, T., Sinclair, F., Orellana, B.M., Henshaw, A., Reynolds, B, …, & Eycott, A. (2013). Polyscape: A GIS mapping framework providing efficient and spatially explicit landscape-scale valuation of multiple ecosystem services. Landscape and Urban Planning, 112, 74-88.

Development of a flood forecasting framework, using data assimilation to improve the accuracy for streamflow forecasts

Dr Deborah Maxwell, Post-Doctoral Fellow and Dr Bethanna Jackson, Senior Lecturer

Deborah is developing a flood forecasting framework to allow the continuous prediction of streamflow using real-time rainfall forecasts. The aim is to provide near-real time and sufficiently accurate streamflow predictions. To achieve this, she is combining a physically consistent conceptual model (although in the future she aims to be able to incorporate multiple model structures) and a data assimilation technique (a constrained Ensemble Kalman Filter) to improve the reliability of model output.

While the conceptual model is able to provide reasonable simulations, due to simplifications in the model structure, imperfect data driving the model and estimated parameter values, there are still likely to be trade-offs in some parts of the hydrograph. The constrained Ensemble Kalman Filter overcomes some of this uncertainty by updating model states to be more representative of antecedent conditions. This state-updating approach uses the information contained in real time or near-real time streamflow observations to correct for biases in modelled catchment storage, improving the reliability of forward predictions and allowing more robust decision making to be made.

Student Projects

Understanding and optimising ecosystem services delivery from wetlands undergoing restoration

Tapuwa Marapara

Wetlands offer a diverse range of services which include flood mitigation, water quality improvement and carbon sequestration. The physical, chemical and hydraulic properties of soils in wetlands have an effect on surface hydrology which is critical for the delivery of these ecosystem services. These properties are in turn affected by vegetation and hydrology.

There is growing knowledge about the changes in surface and subsurface hydrology due to vegetation changes (particularly tree planting) in uplands and other terrestrial areas, yet little is known about the effects in restored forested wetlands. Forested wetland types have attracted attention with regards to restoration for ecosystem service delivery. However, their restoration often fails compared to other wetland types. This is because of lack of information on bio-physio-chemical processes, soil properties, fluid flow pathways and the feedback between these properties. Moreover, very little is known about the re-establishment of trees in frequently flooded systems which have been cleared of trees in the past. If soil properties have changed then reversal to a re-afforested state may be difficult.

There is need for the design of restoration strategies that successfully optimize deliverance of ecosystem services. This study evaluates the effect of planting trees as a restoration strategy on the soil’s physical and hydraulic properties and organic carbon content. Areas where intervention may optimise delivery of ecosystem services are spatially delineated and visualised. Spatial delineation and visualisations are carried out using a modelling tool that explores the capability of landscape elements to deliver ecosystem services following a change in land management.

Tapuwa is co-supervised by Dr Bethanna Jackson and Dr Stephen Hartley (Biological Sciences). He is supported by a Victoria University of Wellington PhD scholarship.

Improving LUCI’s predictive ability to model nitrogen and phosphorus emissions to water

Martha Trodahl

The aim of this project is to further develop LUCI’s ability to model nitrogen and phosphorus emissions to water associated with rural land management and primary production.  New Zealand data, literature and understanding will be used to identify and quantify nutrient inputs to the model and develop new nutrient export algorithms for the model, which will consider a wider range of influencing variables than are currently considered.

Three levels of emissions to water tools using the improved algorithms will be developed to cater for varying levels of input data available and output data required.  These will be applied to New Zealand catchments and the outputs explored to investigate spatially explicit mitigation solutions to the water quality problem.

Martha is supervised by Dr Bethanna Jackson and Dr Julie Deslippe (Biological Sciences). This project is part of wider LUCI research and development, and is supported by Ravensdown.

Irrigation modelling with the LUCI ecosystem services framework

Stuart Easton

Stuart is a Masters student who is developing an irrigation model to work within the LUCI ecosystem services framework.

Agriculture is highly reliant on irrigation inputs to farmland. However the quantity, timing and distribution of inputs are rarely monitored. Irrigation modelling therefore requires a predictive element that reflects on farm management strategies, as well as hydrological modelling of water and land interactions.

Stuart's work aims to help LUCI tools produce accurate nitrogen and phosphorus loss predictions, as well as provide irrigation efficiency measures and recommendations.

Stuart is co-supervised by Dr Bethanna Jackson and Dr Mairead de Roiste. He is supported by a Ravensdown funded project secured through Wellington UniVentures, developing a bespoke version of LUCI suitable for recommending detailed nutrient management at farm scale.

Small-scale data sets of long term soil erosion and soil depth estimations to inform modelling and parameterisation

Stacey Fraser

In our agriculturally dependent country, improved land management is needed to provide protection of soil from the erosive processes of overland flow and aeolian processes at both small and large scales.

Soil degradation can be assessed through the application of landscape models. However due to the time-consuming collection of data and limited scales over which data can be collected, many models created are unique to a particular land type, land use or locality.

It is becoming more beneficial for individual land owners to make informed planning decisions to improve their land, which in turn generates follow on benefits for neighbouring properties.

Collection of additional data sets at fine scales, for example sub field, can be used in addition to large scale data, to broaden the use of models at multiple scales and land types.

Stacey’s project has a major data collection focus, with data sets including: overland flow and transported hill slope sediment using Gerlach traps for a number of different sized rainfall events; collection of antecedent soil moisture conditions using tensiometers; and rainfall volume, intensity and duration using tipping bucket rain gauges. Stream sampling has also taken place in order to provide comparative data for hill slope and in-stream sediment transport.

Additionally, soil depth is being measured at 150 points over the study catchment, to be used to create an empirical predictor of soil depth under native bush or pastoral land use. Soil depth is an important component of hydrological modelling, including providing information on potential water storage and aiding predictions of soil moisture and run off generation.

Stacey’s project aims to provide small scale data sets of long term soil erosion and additionally soil depth estimations for the use in informing model representation and enhancing parameterisation.

Stacey is co-supervised by Dr Bethanna Jackson and Dr Kevin Norton. She is supported by a LUCI scholarship.