Spatial and Temporal Dynamics and Value of Nature-Based Recreation, Estimated via Social Media

Conserved lands provide multiple ecosystem services, including opportunities for nature-based recreation. Managing this service requires understanding the landscape attributes underpinning its provision, and how changes in land management affect its contribution to human wellbeing over time. However, evidence from both spatially explicit and temporally dynamic analyses is scarce, often due to data limitations. In this study, we investigated nature-based recreation within conserved lands in Vermont, USA. We used geotagged photographs uploaded to the photo-sharing website Flickr to quantify visits by in-state and out-of-state visitors, and we multiplied visits by mean trip expenditures to show that conserved lands contributed US $1.8 billion (US $0.18–20.2 at 95% confidence) to Vermont’s tourism industry between 2007 and 2014. We found eight landscape attributes explained the pattern of visits to conserved lands; visits were higher in larger conserved lands, with less forest cover, greater trail density and more opportunities for snow sports. Some of these attributes differed from those found in other locations, but all aligned with our understanding of recreation in Vermont. We also found that using temporally static models to inform conservation decisions may have perverse outcomes for nature-based recreation. For example, static models suggest conserved land with less forest cover receive more visits, but temporally dynamic models suggest clearing forests decreases, rather than increases, visits to these sites. Our results illustrate the importance of understanding both the spatial and temporal dynamics of ecosystem services for conservation decision-making.

Read the full paper: Sonter, Watson, Wood & Ricketts (2016), “Spatial and Temporal Dynamics and Value of Nature-Based Recreation, Estimated via Social Media”, PLoS ONE  11(9): e0162372. DOI: 10.1371/jounal.pone.0162372