Collaborative Research: Reconciling Human and Natural Systems for the Equitable Provision of Ecosystem Services in the Triangle of North Carolina (2009-2012)

Society envisions metropolitan areas that supply ecosystem services sustainably, and mechanisms to distribute those services equitably. Attaining this vision requires a richer understanding of the production of ecosystem services as a function of interactions between built and natural environments. This study addresses these challenges in the Triangle Region of North Carolina under National Science Foundation's Urban Long Term Research Area (ULTRA) program. One of the fastest-growing regions of the country, the Triangle contains urban, suburban, and rural lands, and 45 municipal and seven county governments.

In collaboration with researchers from Duke University and North Carolina State University, the UNC-CH Institute for the Environment's Center for Sustainable Community Design and Center for Watershed Science and Management will apply a three-part framework that entails: (1) the production of ecosystem services by ecological systems; (2) their valuation and monetization by people; and (3) the design, implementation, and evaluation of policies to allocate these benefits equitably. Researchers will: (a) apply this framework to ecosystem services linked to clean water production; (b) further develop a network of collaborators through community workshops; and (c) develop an integrated data platform that will serve researchers, government agencies, and the public. The program will then seek to include other ecosystem services (open space, habitat and biodiversity support, carbon sequestration). The overall goals are: (1) to become leaders in establishing a multi-disciplinary and policy-relevant program focused on managing coupled human and natural systems and (2) to develop the Triangle ULTRA as the hub of a regional network engaging scientists, managers, and community stakeholders in applied research.


Berke, P., Spurlock, D., Hess, G., & Band, L. (2013). Local comprehensive plan quality and regional ecosystem protection: The case of the Jordan Lake watershed, North Carolina, U.S.A. Land use Policy, 31(0), 450-459. doi:

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Bernhardt, E. S., Band, L. E., Walsh, C. J. and Berke, P. E. (2008), Understanding, Managing, and Minimizing Urban Impacts on Surface Water Nitrogen Loading. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1134: 61–96. doi: 10.1196/annals.1439.014

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