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U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5181

The South Florida Ecosystem Portfolio Model—A Map-Based Multicriteria Ecological, Economic, and Community Land-Use Planning Tool

By William B. Labiosa, Richard Bernknopf, Paul Hearn, Dianna Hogan, David Strong, Leonard Pearlstine, Amy M. Mathie, Anne M. Wein, Kevin Gillen, and Susan Wachter


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The South Florida Ecosystem Portfolio Model (EPM) prototype is a regional land-use planning Web tool that integrates ecological, economic, and social information and values of relevance to decision-makers and stakeholders. The EPM uses a multicriteria evaluation framework that builds on geographic information system-based (GIS) analysis and spatially-explicit models that characterize important ecological, economic, and societal endpoints and consequences that are sensitive to regional land-use/land-cover (LULC) change. The EPM uses both economics (monetized) and multiattribute utility (nonmonetized) approaches to valuing these endpoints and consequences. This hybrid approach represents a methodological middle ground between rigorous economic and ecological/ environmental scientific approaches. The EPM sacrifices some degree of economic- and ecological-forecasting precision to gain methodological transparency, spatial explicitness, and transferability, while maintaining credibility. After all, even small steps in the direction of including ecosystem services evaluation are an improvement over current land-use planning practice (Boyd and Wainger, 2003).

There are many participants involved in land-use decision-making in South Florida, including local, regional, State, and Federal agencies, developers, environmental groups, agricultural groups, and other stakeholders (South Florida Regional Planning Council, 2003, 2004). The EPM’s multicriteria evaluation framework is designed to cut across the objectives and knowledge bases of all of these participants. This approach places fundamental importance on social equity and stakeholder participation in land-use decision-making, but makes no attempt to determine normative socially “optimal” land-use plans. The EPM is thus a map-based set of evaluation tools for planners and stakeholders to use in their deliberations of what is “best”, considering a balancing of disparate interests within a regional perspective. Although issues of regional ecological sustainability can be explored with the EPM (for example, changes in biodiversity potential and regional habitat fragmentation), it does not attempt to define or evaluate long-term ecological sustainability as such. Instead, the EPM is intended to provide transparent first-order indications of the direction of ecological, economic, and community change, not to make detailed predictions of ecological, economic, and social outcomes. In short, the EPM is an attempt to widen the perspectives of its users by integrating natural and social scientific information in a framework that recognizes the diversity of values at stake in South Florida land-use planning.

For terrestrial ecosystems, land-cover change is one of the most important direct drivers of changes in ecosystem services (Hassan and others, 2005). More specifically, the fragmentation of habitat from expanding low-density development across landscapes appears to be a major driver of terrestrial species decline and the impairment of terrestrial ecosystem integrity, in some cases causing irreversible impairment from a land-use planning perspective (Brody, 2008; Peck, 1998). Many resource managers and land-use planners have come to realize that evaluating land-use conversions on a parcel-by-parcel basis leads to a fragmented and narrow view of the regional effects of natural land-cover loss to development (Marsh and Lallas, 1995). The EPM is an attempt to integrate important aspects of the coupled natural-system/human-system view from a regional planning perspective.

The EPM evaluates proposed land-use changes, both conversion and intensification, in terms of relevant ecological, economic, and social criteria that combine information about probable land-use outcomes, based on ecological and environmental models, as well as value judgments, as expressed in user-modifiable preference models. Based on on-going meetings and interviews with stakeholders and potential tool users we focus on three dimensions of LULC-related anthropocentric value (1) ecological-value (based on various ecological criteria), (2) market land-price, and (3) indicators of (human) community quality-of-life or human well-being. Each of these dimensions is implemented as a submodel of the EPM that generates “value maps” for a given land-use pattern, where the value map reflects changes in land attributes and patterns, as well as user preferences (the exception is the land-price model, which reflects market prices outside of the influence of the individual user). These attributes are primarily related to land-use and land-cover, including changes in habitat potential and landscape fragmentation, human perceived amenities, community character, flooding and hurricane evacuation risks, water-quality buffer potential, and ecological restoration potential, and other relevant criteria. Each of the submodels is discussed in detail in this report. Note that what is “good” from the perspective of one submodel (for example, increased habitat potential within the ecological-value model) may be “bad” from another (for example, increased travel time to shopping within the community quality-of-life model), so the resulting submodel scores can conflict for a given land-use pattern. Related to this, the EPM is designed to allow users to consider trade-offs between competing values, since the value maps (ecological-value, land-price, and community quality-of-life) can be broken down into underlying individual criteria values, as well as viewed as aggregated value maps.

The EPM is designed to be used by a variety of users for a variety of contexts. Examples of potential users and contexts include: 1) Federal, State, and local natural resource agency staff and managers that review development applications and land-use plans; 2) various stakeholders interested in evaluating development applications, comparing land-use plans, and evaluating land-use trends; 3) local and regional planning agency staff evaluating potential ecological impacts to protected public lands and private undeveloped lands; and 4) resource agency staff communicating with land-use decision-makers and other stakeholders about the potential effects of surrounding land-use change to their protected resources. The EPM Web interface allows such users to choose from a list of existing land-use plans, to upload their own land-use plans using a specified classification system, and, through the Web interface, to interactively modify the land-use classifications of any cells or parcels within a loaded land-use plan.

There are other examples of GIS-based land-use planning tools (for example, CommunityViz™(, CITYgreen (; last accessed July 2, 2008), and Smart Places (; last accessed July 2, 2008), ecosystem management tools (for example, Ecosystem-Based Management Tools Network at; last accessed July 2, 2008), and regional ecosystem services evaluation tools (for example, the Natural Capital Project InVEST toolbox at; last accessed July 30, 2009). However, these tools have a different focus and intended use. They are designed to be general tools that must be customized with local data and information by users (or consultants) for application in a specific place and context. In contrast, the EPM is designed to be used as a place-specific set of Web-accessed tools implemented for a relatively small number of high priority ecosystems experiencing intense land-use change due to urbanization and sprawl. Also, the EPM is designed to enable a “strong sustainability view” of the regional impacts and tradeoffs inherent in land-use change. From this perspective, ecological, economic, and quality-of-life endpoints must be tracked separately, since a loss in natural capital is not assumed to be necessarily offset by a gain in other capital (Goodland and Daly, 1995). Decision-makers may still choose to make this tradeoff, but the EPM makes the ecological-economic-community value tradeoffs explicit, without combining these categorically-distinct values.

The South Florida EPM is designed as a maintained public Web page (; user name is “sflorida” and the password is “alligator”; last accessed July 30, 2009) that will be modified as new data is collected, models are improved, and new needs are identified. An important part of the customization is the creation of a self-contained and user-friendly Web interface that directly links inputted land-use patterns to models, where the models are chosen, created, and/ or modified during an initial user/stakeholder analysis phase and post-prototype evaluation phase. Although the approach is transferable to any urban-natural interface, the South Florida EPM is customized to the issues and values at stake in South Florida. Plans to apply the EPM to Puget Sound in Washington and the Santa Cruz Watershed in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, are being developed.

First posted September 29, 2009

Last revised September 23, 2010

  • Report PDF (12.1 MB)
  • Data folder that contains the four zipped .xls files of Appendixes 1 and 2 described in the text (80 kB)
  • This report is available only on the Web.

For additional information:
Contact Information, Western Geographic Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 531
Menlo Park, California 94025

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Suggested citation:

Labiosa, William B., Bernknopf, Richard, Hearn, Paul, Hogan, Dianna, Strong, David, Pearlstine, Leonard, Mathie, Amy M., Wein, Anne M., Gillen, Kevin, and Wachter, Susan, 2009, The South Florida Ecosystem Portfolio Model; a map-based multicriteria ecological, economic, and community land-use planning tool: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5181, 41 p.


Acronyms Used in This Report



Overview of the Ecosystem Portfolio Model (EPM)

Ecosystem Portfolio Model Components (Submodels), in Detail

Looking at Land-Use from Different Perspectives: Use of the EPM

References Cited-

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