PARAMO - Provisioning of ecosystem services And cultuRAl values in the MOntane tropics

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Creative Arts


The tropics harbour more species than anywhere else on Earth. This biodiversity supports a number of ecosystem services -- benefits that humankind derives from the natural environment, including water, nutrient-rich soils and pest-control by predatory birds and insects -- that are essential for human well-being, and it also underpins many cultural attachments that people have with nature. However, the disturbance of natural habitats and their conversion for other uses, such as farming, are driving a global extinction crisis. This project takes an innovative approach to understand the links between biodiversity and ecosystem services and cultural provision using the Colombian Andes as a case study.

The Colombian Andes are one of the most biodiversity rich places on Earth, their soils contain carbon-rich peats, ecosystem services are derived for the majority of Colombia's human population, and these are rich in cultural values on both a personal and community level. In spite of this tremendous wealth, hostilities in Colombia have long hampered research to understand eco-cultural relationships. The reduction in hostilities creates a policy window to impact the development of a sustainable bioeconomy, i.e. the economic exploitation of its biological resources, underpinned by Colombia's high biodiversity. There are inherent environmental and cultural risks of capitalising upon biodiversity, which could drive negative outcomes for conservation or society. Our multidisciplinary programme will answer the major, unanswered question of how best to incorporate and optimise the combination of biodiversity, ecosystem service, and cultural values within natural resource management. In doing so, we will transform the role of cultural heritage and human-environmental experiential knowledge within the design of conservation programmes.

Our study will answer this key overarching question by fulfilling four main Objectives that will: (1) define the impacts of habitat conversion and disturbance on biodiversity; (2) resolve how ecosystem service provisioning and resilience is affected by habitat conversion and disturbance, focusing specifically on carbon stocking, nutrient recycling, soil nutrient and water retention, and landslide prevention; (3) understand how local communities perceive and attach cultural value to biodiversity and ecosystem services, via a program of story-telling workshops; and (4) integrate environmental and cultural values to co-design natural resource management, and translate these findings to core stakeholders, from local communities, to NGOs and relevant government departments. This research will thus enable our multidisciplinary team of experts to support Colombia in developing its economy in a manner that continues to protect biodiversity, ecosystem services and cultural values and beliefs.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
This project has access to extensive resources for dissemination to end users (see Pathways to Impact). Four UK and Colombian societal groups will benefit from the proposed research. (1) Conservation and cultural research bodies, NGOs, and environment policy-makers and assessment panels. (2) Rural Colombians in the páramo-cloudforest Andes. (3) Biology/Environmental and Arts and Humanities university students. (4) Members of the general public concerned about tropical forest loss and biodiversity extinction, plus those interested in birds.
How will they benefit from this research? (1) Conservation and cultural research bodies, NGOs, and environment policy-makers and assessment panels. To develop a sustainable bioeconomy underpinned by culturally sensitive natural resource management, environmental funders and managers need two core pieces of information that this project will provide: (i) an understanding of the link between biodiversity, resulting ecosystem functioning, and the flows of ecosystem services to people; and (ii) how people culturally value to their natural environment.
Our principal collaborators in Colombia are at the Instituto Alexander von Humboldt (IaVH), which is funded by the Colombian government to research the nation's biological resources, their social influence, and their management. Several major UK- and Colombia-based NGOs, including WWF-Colombia, World Land Trust, Conservación Internacional, and ProAves (in)directly invest in the protection and/or purchase of critical areas for conservation in the Colombian Andes. Our research will inform both groups. Finally, UK and Colombian governments have made international agreement under the Convention of Biological Diversity 2011-2020 'Aichi Biodiversity Targets' to reduce extinction threat, and in doing so, meet SDG15 'Life on Land'. As a hotspot of extinction risk and ecosystem service losses, the Tropical Andes must be a focus of efforts, requiring internaonal collaboration. In this respect, we will link our study to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), so that our results can feed into future regional and global assessments of the impacts of land degradation.
(2) Rural Colombians in the páramo-cloudforest Andes. Using this information, natural resource managers will be able to help improve poor rural Colombian people's lives by protecting or restoring core environmental services from which people benefit. Benefits could flow via direct financial mechanisms to protect natural habitat, such a carbon-based payments for ecosystems services (which our previous research in the Colombian Andes has quantified), reduced flood and landslide risk, and maintenance of key cultural values and human well-being.
(3) Colombian (BSc or MSc) and UK (BSc) students will gain opportunities to develop core transferable skills in data handling and manipulation techniques, plus experience of data collection during fieldwork and workshops. Further, Colombian students will gain international links that will benefit their career progressions.
(4) UK and Colombian general public. Many in the UK and Colombian wider general public are interested in or concerned about biodiversity conservation issues and climate change, and will benefit from the project's media engagement, as well as its capacity for wider public engagement in these issues, especially by bringing previously unheard community voices into the public discourse. Further, there is significant interest around birds, in terms of locations, records, and sound recordings.


10 25 50
Description How do the Paramos store water? The role of plants and people
Amount £149,487 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R017611/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 07/2021