Land Change and Ecosystem Services

Johns Island Community Conservation Initiative

The Johns Island Community Conservation Initiative (JICCI) is a three-pronged approach designed to advance a comprehensive conservation effort on Johns Island. We will a) identify which areas are most important to Johns Islanders and why through an iterative, participatory process, b) model future land use change and development scenarios to identify areas at greatest risk, and c) develop a conservation toolkit that reflects both landowner preferences and the legal/financial feasibility of mechanisms for conservation in high-priority areas. This approach to integrating local perspectives into conservation planning is scalable and can be transferred to other areas of the Lowcountry.


Participatory Ecosystem Services Mapping – Johns Island, SC


  • What are the effects of land use change on the benefits that people get from the environment (ecosystem services)?
  • What are the impacts of changes to ecosystem services on human well being?
  • Are there differences between stakeholder-identified conservation priorities and those recognized in formal management plans?


Land-use change resulting from urbanization and second home development are changing coastal landscapes and impacting socio-ecological systems through rapid population growth, rising cost of living, habitat destruction and fragmentation. Johns Island, SC has experienced unprecedented growth, threatening a set of unique natural and cultural resources including significant amounts of heirs property, a rich civil rights era history and a near-contiguous landscape of mixed forest types, wetlands, agricultural operations and marine waterways. As pressure increases, the need to find a balance between development and conservation becomes more urgent. While there is widespread recognition of the need to protect vulnerable coastal landscapes, there are differing views on which elements of those landscapes and which ecosystem services are highest priority to conserve. We are working with stakeholders to identify, describe, and map the natural and cultural resources of Johns Island. Management from an ecosystem service perspective provide a promising framework to address environmental problems in coastal areas.


Participatory ecosystem service mapping is an emerging field of research that engaged individual in the creation, analysis and evaluation of spatial information. Through a series of workshops, we asked long-term residents to identify, describe, and locate valuable natural and cultural resources in the lowcountry of South Carolina. For example, these included fishing and hunting spots, sites of historic and/or cultural importance, locations of community events, and recreational spaces. This iterative, participatory effort allowed us to determine which resources are valued by local stakeholders, thus making it possible to compare these to more typical conservation priorities. In this study, we compare stakeholders’ values to official conservation plans, such as the Charleston County Comprehensive Plan, preservation plan for Charleston, State of South Carolina’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Plan and the Johns Island Community Greenways Plan.


Expected Outcomes:

– Identify the natural and cultural resources valued by local stakeholders and compare their spatial distribution to official growth and conservation plans.

– Identify mismatches between the areas identified as important by local stakeholders and those currently protected under existing protection plans.

– Build capacity and empower local communities to engage in the decision-making process.


Coastal areas are facing serious environmental challenges and implementation of conservation plans could be improved with greater local buy-in. Our research demonstrates an approach to incorporate local community perspectives in conservation planning, which could potentially help to engage local people more effectively to conserve cultural ecosystem services.