Building a world in which people and nature thrive requires combining the expertise of many individuals and applying science to on-the-ground solutions. The Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) is a collaboration between NCEAS, The Nature Conservancy, and Wildlife Conservation Society that is grounded in this understanding.
SNAPP is an opportunity for scientists, policymakers, and field practitioners to come together to develop evidence-based solutions to global challenges that lie at the intersection of nature conservation, sustainable development, and human well-being. These interdisciplinary teams answer big-picture questions related to four themes: Water and Nature, Food Security and Nature, Natural Climate Solutions, and The Value of Nature.
SNAPP issues a call for proposals once a year, typically between February and April. To get notifications of these calls and other announcements, subscribe to the SNAPP newsletter by emailing snapp [at] snappartnership.net.
Visit the SNAPP website to learn more about its mission, people, and solutions, as well as how you can support this innovative work.
Expand the accordions below to learn about the projects.
Water and Nature
These teams are seeking innovative approaches to harmonize water needs for nature, agriculture, business, and communities to ensure sufficient and clean water for all.
Prioritizing investments to meet urban water needsWater stress is an increasing global problem, with as much as 30% of the world’s population facing water shortages on a regular basis. Water funds and other investments to protect upstream watersheds and water sources may be part of the solution, and may reduce the need for more costly built infrastructure like dams and reservoirs. This Working Group is developing a methodology to identify where and how investments in natural capital in select Latin American cities can help solve urban water quality, scarcity and management issues.
Incentivizing water transactions to enhance streamflow, water supply reliability, and rural economic viabilityOver-allocation of water for agricultural, municipal, and industrial use severely depletes stream flows across the American West, degrading ecosystems, and posing economic risk to all who depend on reliable water supplies. This Working Group is developing a novel approach to water sharing – using legal water transaction agreements that change water use or transfer or sell water rights – to eliminate zero-sum competition between users, and instead advance a multiple-benefit approach that restores stream flows, reduces economic risk associated with water shortages, and maintains agricultural economies.
Impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water quantity and qualityNew technologies of horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing are making shale energy development possible and are helping meet increasing global energy demand. Hydraulic fracturing also uses large quantities of water and produces toxic chemical waste. This Working Group is examining the impacts of energy extraction on water supplies and wastewater contamination. By documenting best practices, SNAPP will help predict and avoid conflicts between shale energy development and the need for clean, safe water for people and natural systems.
Maintaining connectivity of Amazonian aquatic ecosystems for human well-being and biodiversityThe Amazon Basin is the largest tropical wilderness area and the most biologically diverse place on Earth. Amazonia is home to hundreds of indigenous peoples and other traditional cultures which rely on this vast freshwater system. How can connectivity of this vast, interlinked, and dynamic freshwater system be maintained, so as to support human well-being, wildlife, and the environments on which they depend? This will require the conservation of critical wetlands, strengthening fisheries management, and minimizing the environmental impacts of infrastructure and extractive industries on the Amazon's diverse aquatic ecosystems. This Working Group has developed a strong scientific foundation to support this vision, and is now in a position to suggest management and policy pathways for large-scale aquatic conservation.
Understanding how can nature improve sanitation and water quality, and how sanitation goals benefit natureAs more than half the world’s population lacks improved or adequate sanitation, the unsafe management of fecal waste and wastewater continues to present a major risk to public health and the environment. This working group aims to examine how wastewater utilities and their regulators can implement nature-based sanitation solutions into wastewater treatment facilities while also providing benefits to nature and biodiversity.
Prioritizing source water protection programs to alleviate the risks of flood and droughtWhile source water protection programs are often implemented in response to hydrological shifts caused by climate change and land degradation, there is little empirical evidence about how these activities affect the quantity of water downstream. This project will investigate to what extent, and under what circumstances, source water protection activities can produce meaningful baseflow, groundwater recharge, and flood impacts.
Food Security and Nature
These teams are developing science-based strategies to balance the growing demand for fisheries and agriculture with conservation goals to ensure long-term food security and sustainability.
Worldwide fish stock assessment solutionsOverfishing threatens the health of many of the world’s fish stocks and the millions who rely on fish for their livelihood and animal protein. We know that reliably assessed fisheries tend to be better managed and thus less overfished; however, we lack regular assessment data for more than 90% of Earth’s fisheries. This Working Group is developing innovative, inexpensive approaches to assess such data-limited fisheries and will create new tools and local training to improve sustainability of small-scale fisheries and local economies.
Measuring the status of fisheries and factors leading to successFisheries are an important source of global food security, income and employment, and are closely tied to changes in the health of marine environments. Effective management of the world’s fisheries suffers from many challenges, but the lack of data and analysis magnifies the challenges tenfold. To improve the science of fisheries management and the health of the world’s fisheries, scientists from around the world will come together with new data to improve our understanding of the current status of key fish stocks, and provide a systematic analysis of all the factors that lead to good outcomes in fisheries management.
Informing development in Colombia’s last agricultural frontierIn the past other regions of Colombia experienced agricultural booms, like the one currently overtaking the Orinoquia, with little or no planning for land-use changes and associated energy and communications infrastructure. This resulted in loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Right now, there is a unique opportunity to avoid a similar development path in the Orinoquia. To inform decision-making, this Working Group is assessing the effects of expanding agricultural commodities and related land-use changes, and identifying the consequences of different land-use scenarios.
Enhancing information on land-use impacts on fisheriesWhile most marine data tries to make sense of what is happening above and below the ocean surface, marine environments are also impacted by land-based activities such as logging, mining and construction. Increasing populations and economic development along coasts around the globe are leading to growing pressures on fisheries and other marine resources. This Working Group is creating a model to help predict the impacts of land-use changes on fisheries. By closing the gap between terrestrial development and marine resources, SNAPP will help decision makers assess how their choices could impact economic development, fisheries and livelihoods.
Analyzing Best Practices and Standards for open-ocean aquacultureAquaculture currently represents 50 percent of all fisheries products for direct human consumption. It’s not a question of if or when aquaculture will take off, but more about how and where it will expand, and what people can do to help steer it towards more sustainable practices. This Working Group of industry representatives, scientists, and others will examine current best practices, analyze opportunities for sustainable expansion, as well as the economic and ecological impacts of potential aquaculture development scenarios, with a special focus on the emerging sector of open-ocean aquaculture, which currently has no best-practice guidance of any kind.
Planning solutions for Tanzania's Southern Ag Growth CorridorThe expansion of agriculture into wild lands poses an enormous risk to conservation efforts. An alternative may be to intensify agriculture in specific places, growing more food on less land while sparing key natural areas. Large “infrastructure corridors” are being proposed in developing countries around the world as a way to expand intensive, commercial agriculture to feed the growing population. This Working Group is focusing on the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) to identify and map the trade-offs between agricultural intensification and the high risk to agricultural livelihoods, ecosystem services, and biodiversity to guide smart planning and sustainable agricultural development.
Stopping an epidemic that threatens Mongolian wildlife and livestockInfectious diseases at the livestock/wildlife interface threaten the health and well-being of wildlife, livestock, and human livelihoods. Using data from the recent Mongolian outbreak of peste des petits ruminants (PPR) that killed tens of thousands of livestock and more than half of the endangered saiga antelope population, the project will look at the potential for participatory epidemiology, or bottom-up surveillance by the pastoralists themselves, as the most effective way to prevent future outbreaks.
Equitably securing food production and forest conservation targetsFood demand in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to triple by 2050. This puts Sustainable Development Goals 2 (ending hunger) and 15 (protect terrestrial ecosystems) at odds as conversion to agriculture is the primary driver of deforestation. Working in Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania and building on previous efforts by the International Institute for Environment and Development, this group combines spatial and political economy analysis to better reconcile these competing goals.
Natural Climate Solutions
These teams are improving how we protect communities and ecosystems from drought, storms, and sea-level rise.
Using nature to protect our shorelines from hazardsNatural habitats such as mangroves, coral reefs, and wetlands, as well as manmade barriers including levees and seawalls, help coastal communities withstand the impacts of extreme environmental events. This Working Group is measuring how, where, and how much coastal habitats can protect communities from the impacts of storm surges, sea level rise, and other natural hazards. They are developing practical guidance and tools for decision-makers and practitioners to implement natural solutions that lead to reduced risks for coastal communities and livelihoods.
Fire management decisions in the face of uncertaintyThere is growing concern over how to best manage fire-prone landscapes in the face of an uncertain future climate, as well as an increasingly contentious scientific debate over how much high-severity fire should be considered “natural” in dry conifer forests across the Western U.S. Unfortunately, the debate has become a roadblock to practical action on fire management. To identify common ground among fire researchers, this Working Group will bring together representatives from both sides to address the core issues of the debate, review and synthesize available data, identify where consensus exists, focus on policy and management decisions based on that consensus, and develop a strategy for resolving issues that remain unsettled.
Understanding drought risks and improving preparednessThe intensity and frequency of droughts in North America are expected to increase in scope and duration – with concurrent challenges to people and nature. To meet these challenges, this Working Group will synthesize the current understanding of ecological (multi-year, climate-induced) drought, and identify research priorities, including methods for evaluating future drought risks that don’t rely only on historic data. They will also work with existing pilot efforts on drought resiliency, and field test a suite of community preparedness and conservation actions that increase resilience to drought without harming the natural systems that both depend on.
Fostering alliances between conservation and religious groupsA partnership between conservation and religious groups can be influential because the success of conservation efforts often depends on the ability to change human values and behaviors. Faith-based organizations are common sources of values and behaviors. Historically, collaborations between conservation and religious groups wane over time, but by providing the proper tools and guidance, long-term partnerships and greater conservation outcomes can be achieved.
Aligning coastal restoration with ecological and societal needsCoastal ecosystems are being degraded and the extent of these ecosystems has been reduced worldwide. These changes are exposing coastal communities and assets to more risks of disasters and climate change. In response, new policies have been created to include coastal habitat restoration in risk management plans. Yet agencies are facing hard decisions about where to invest in coastal restoration, and how to set targets to meet the needs of both nature and people. This Working Group will inform future restoration decisions by examining agency needs for decision-making, assess past restoration projects, and develop achievable metrics and approaches for guiding future restoration efforts.
Maintaining timber production while improving outcomes for carbon, conservation and waterNative tropical forests under selective logging for timber production already cover more than twice the area of those under strict conservation protection. Meanwhile, a smaller but growing proportion of tropical forests is being converted to high-intensity timber plantations. This Working Group aims to develop an empirical, science-based framework to answer the question: How do people and countries achieve the greatest conservation and human well-being outcomes in landscapes with target levels of timber production?
Improving science-based soil managementAny viable approach to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals requires addressing soil, which is the foundation of both healthy natural and agricultural systems. However, reliable, quantitative data on the contributions of key soil properties – like soil organic matter – to achieving production and environmental goals are lacking. This Working Group is working to improve science-based soil management by quantifying the relationships between SOM and crop yield, livestock value, carbon storage, biodiversity outcomes, and nutrient retention to create science-based targets for the management of soils.
Encouraging economic development to jointly benefit humans and natureDespite improvements over the last 50 years, the Central Appalachian Coalfields region of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, remain among the most impoverished areas in the United States. Once strongly focused on mining, forestry, agriculture and heavy/chemical industry, the region is well-positioned to embrace a vibrant, diverse economy including manufacturing, service industries, renewable energy development, tourism, and a revived forest products industry. This project will investigate how regional economic development in the Central Appalachian Coalfields can jointly benefit human well-being and environmental sustainability.
The Value of Nature
These teams are identifying practical ways to incorporate nature conservation into global plans for healthy economies and communities.
Ecosystem and resilience metricsProviding for a growing and increasingly wealthy global population while protecting the environment calls for a dramatic paradigm shift in how we approach development. Working closely with government ministries of the Volta and Nile Basins, this Working Group is developing agriculture, ecosystem and natural resource-based indicators for planning and monitoring country-scale progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The indicators will be grounded in ecosystem sciences, include novel evaluation measures for natural capital and ecosystem services, and have practical policy relevance.
Case study of forestry and wetland landscapes in RwandaGross Domestic Product, the most common indicator of economic performance, does not include many non-marketed services. As a result, the contributions that ecosystem services (natural capital provided by healthy forests, rivers, and other habitats) contribute to a country’s economy are not accounted for. Today, many groups, including NGOs, research institutions, the World Bank and governments are emphasizing the importance of a system for natural capital accounting that will more accurately assess a country’s true wealth. This Working Group will focus on helping Rwanda, one of the World Bank’s core implementing countries for natural capital accounting, determine the value of non-market services in two priority landscapes. The results of this work will directly support Rwanda’s development planning process, as well as underpin the central role of natural capital in economic output. Beyond Rwanda, the results will give impetus to efforts by global initiatives, such as the UN’s Green Economy, and provide a pathway for other governments committed to including natural capital accounting in their goals for, and measures of, economic growth.
Utilizing biocultural indicators to improve the long-term resilience of the PacificBiodiversity and food- and water-security throughout the Pacific will be negatively impacted by climate change. Climate change, In combination with local stessors, will lead to the exploitation of resources, habitat transformation, and the spread of invasive species in the Pacific. Enduring these pressures will require practices and policies that best foster resilient and adaptive communities to be adopted. In order to improve long-term community resilience to these changes, this Working Group will develop a biocultural approach to community planning and monitoring that incorporates the intimate connections of Pacific peoples with the land and sea.
Understanding the full implications of land-use decisionsMany critical land-use decisions are made without a full understanding of the tradeoffs between economic returns, impacts on biodiversity, and benefits derived from nature that land use alternatives might provide or maintain. This Working Group will use a data-driven, economic analysis-based approach to incorporate the impacts of both markets and policies on land-use decisions. This framework will enable decision-makers to see with unprecedented breadth and depth the full range of potential tradeoffs different land-use choices might yield among social, economic and environmental values.
What would an economically rational Chinese ivory trade policy look like?Reducing demand for ivory is seen as vital to eliminating pressure on increasingly threatened elephant populations. How to reduce such demand in China – whether by regulating the legal trade (which entails effectively combating the parallel illegal ivory trade) or instituting a permanent ban on all ivory trade – is the subject of debate because so little is known about the economic intricacies of the Chinese ivory trade. To help policymakers make informed decisions between regulation or a ban, this Working Group will assess the economics of the Chinese ivory trade, its impacts on human livelihoods in China and Africa, and provide policy recommendations to the Chinese government in time to inform China’s 2016 National Congress Conference, which is a particularly important opportunity because it will guide Chinese policies at the next Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) in October 2016.
Making the right decisions for people and natureAs global conservation and policy organizations wrestle with challenges like water scarcity and overfishing, they are placing growing emphasis on showing the value of a healthy environment to the health, development and well-being of people. However, we still lack substantiation linking the effects of conservation efforts to social outcomes – both good and bad. This Working Group will appraise existing evidence documenting such links and illustrate how the science could guide conservation project managers, policy makers and social impact investors.
Measuring and valuing ecosystem services and human well-being benefits delivered by Key Biodiversity AreasIn an effort to support management decisions of biologically important areas, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has led the development of a new standard for the identification of sites, known as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). KBAs are areas that contribute to the global persistence of biodiversity and the current standard for identifying these sites, is based solely on characteristics of the biodiversity they contain. While the standard also requests that each identified site include information on the ecosystem services provided as well as the human well-being benefits that are gained through its protection, this information is not used in determining KBA sites. A new SNAPP working group is bringing together the exiting efforts on ecosystem service assessment and the emerging KBA standards, with the goal of including ecosystem services and the benefits to human well-being in the KBA identification process.
Determining a compensatory approach for equitable conservationBillions of dollars are spent in compensating for the negative impacts of industrial development on nature and local communities every year. With the increase in compensatory mechanisms, such as offset and no net loss policies, now is the time to influence the development of compensation policy for the better. This Working Group is developing criteria for identifying the type of compensatory approach most likely to deliver equitable conservation benefits for conservation and local communities.
Linking human health and the environmentThe UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and a new scientific movement focused on the concept of “Planetary Health” are drawing increased attention to the links between human health and the environment. Unfortunately, the lack of objective scientific evaluation of these links — such as those between disease transmission and environmental change — makes it difficult to design interventions that promote healthy outcomes for both people and nature. This Working Group will identify local or regional actionable, ecological levers – types of interventions – that can have direct, measurable benefits for health and the environment for the communities that institute them.
The Science for Nature and People Partnership is generously funded by Shirley and Harry Hagey, Steve and Roberta Denning, Seth Neiman, Angela Nomellini and Ken Olivier, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the blue moon fund.
Podcast: How SNAPP Works
NCEAS Senior Fellow Jai Ranganathan interviews two researchers from SNAPP working groups about how SNAPP enables science-driven solutions.