Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative 

Southwest Florida | A regional vision for collaborative conservation efforts and building resilience





In response to a call by the President’s office, several federal agencies tasked with managing the nation’s natural resources selected an pilot group of landscape partnerships through the Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative. This initiative was established to highlight regions where collaborative efforts have been undertaken to address the resilience of biophysical and socio-economic systems to changing climate. The following website documents the ongoing work in one of these regions, an area spanning seven counties in Southwest Florida, where a combination of population growth and rising sea level and water temperatures threaten coastal, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems.

Study region 

The southwest region of Florida consists of a number of diverse habitats including coastal mangroves, sea grasses, oyster reefs, Everglades’ wetlands, pine flatwoods, and riverine/estuary. The area hosts a variety of endangered species including the iconic Florida panther. Public lands include the western side of the everglades, Big Cypress National Preserve, Panther and Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife refuges and other state and local parks. Threats include rapidly increasing urbanization increase, land use changes, invasive species, sea level rise, and changing patterns of precipitation and temperature. Florida has over 19,000,000 people and is predicted to reach 31,000,000 by 2060 with the southwest part of the state being one of the fastest growing areas. The Cooperative Conservation Blueprint for Florida (CCB) and Peninsular Florida LCC (PFLCC) have both designated this area as a focal zone and have developed strong partnerships with private land owners, federal and state agencies, the SW Florida regional planning council and NGOs such as The Nature Conservancy.


U r b a n i z a t i o n



P o p u l a t i o n



S e a    L e v e l    R i s e



H a b i t a t    c h a n g e


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Previous Research


This project benefits from an extensive body of existing research into environmental change and human development in the region, and the broader landscapes of peninsular Florida and the southeastern United States. Research topics and partner organizations range from local planning efforts by the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council to evaluate climate change vulnerability, to statewide urban growth projections for the Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative, and a regional resilience assessment by The Nature Conservancy.


Urban growth scenarios have been developed for the entire state of Florida to help inform conservation priorities and consider a range of alternative future development patterns.

Projections have been developed which consider the latest population trends, as well as development policies that promote more compact growth patterns or existing policies that tend to produce more widespread land cover change.

Impact Assessment for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Contextual Landscape (USFWS, FWC, GeoAdaptive, GeoDesign Technologies, 2015) [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]
Florida 2060: A Population Distribution Scenario for the State of Florida (UF GeoPlan Center, 1000 Friends of Florida, 2006) [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]

Conservation Strategies

Numerous studies have been conducted which consider alternatives for protecting valuable and sensitive lands and waters, as well as prioritizing the use of limited funding to optimize conservation efforts.

Analysis of trade-offs between fee-simple and easement-based conservation have been evaluated, in addition to application of landscape conservation design principles to key habitat areas.

Climate Change

Both the effects of changing climate on natural and human systems, as well as their relative vulnerability and resilience, have been analyzed at the local and regional scale.

The most accurate available topographic data and robust climate modeling methods have been applied to develop predictions of sea level rise and sea surface temperature change, as well as their potential impacts on the region.

Florida Sea Level Scenario Sketch Planning Tool (UF GeoPlan Center, Florida DOT Office of Policy Planning, 2015) [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]
Comprehensive Southwest Florida / Charlotte Harbor Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (SWFRPC, CHNEP, 2009) [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]

Ecosystem Services

Quantifying the value and supporting functions of various ecosystems has been studied globally, and in specific areas of southern Florida, particularly for the benefits they provide to residents and visitors.

These services have been categorized according to the type of benefit they provide, and many studies have assessed the relative value of these services, as well as identifying ecosystems that cumulatively provide the most overall benefit.

Each of these previous research efforts provided insight into the factors affecting the resilience of southwest Florida’s habitats and residents. The results of these analyses contributed to the evaluation of changes and impacts described in the following sections.


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Introduction | Previous Research | Understanding Change| Ecosystem services| Resilience assessment| Analytical approach| Conclusions


Understanding Change


The following section summarizes the main changes evaluated through the Drivers and Pressures analysis of the three scenarios considered as part of this project. Drivers are defined as a social, economic, or biophysical phenomenon with broad regional or global effects that may induce changes in the state of the environment. Each of these Drivers creates many more specific Pressures on the system. Pressures are defined as the means through which drivers are actually expressed. Navigating through the area using the 3D visualization provides a spatial representation of the different elements analysed.


In the project study area, we selected a combination of drivers affecting both the landscape and seascape environments. Within the framework, Pressures are the link between socioeconomic activities and the natural system, for this reason their analysis is combined with the Driver assessment. Our analysis identifies 8 drivers and 4 pressures for each driver. Each pressure is evaluated using 20 different resilience indicators organized in five different categories: general, anthropogenic, biophysical, economic and social. Each indicator is assigned a score between 1 (low, local) to 5 (high, global). The final results for each scenario are between 20 and 100. To evaluate the driver, we have calculated an average of the score for the related pressures.

Click here (Current, Trend, Proactive) to know more about the methodology and the indicators selected.

The results demonstrate that the Pollution and water management driver is the least resilient for all three scenarios considered. A low resilience capacity is also linked to three different drivers: climate change, population growth and agriculture/ranching. The urbanization driver produces the greatest increase in resilience for the proactive scenario compared to the two other scenarios. The next section introduces how the natural functions of the region’s ecosystems also help contribute to resilience.


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Introduction | Previous Research | Understanding Change| Ecosystem services| Resilience assessment| Analytical approach| Conclusions


Ecosystem Services


People benefit from a range of natural processes that function at local to global scales and support or produce elements of the world we live in. This array of goods and services, produced by the combined physical and biological components of the environment, are known as ecosystem services. Human gains from ecosystem services range from cultural benefits such as recreation opportunities, to dependency such as pollinated food crops and clean water. The health of the underlying ecosystems that support these services is key to the long-term provision of benefits to humans.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, conducted by a consortium of scientists at the request of the UN in the early 2000’s, grouped ecosystem services into four broad categories of service types: supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural. Each service category indicates the primary function that ecosystem services provide for human benefit. The roles and interaction of these services are dependent on location and scale.

Ecosystem services specific to southwest Florida were identified from eight terrestrial and marine research projects conducted in the region. The projects included coastal marine ecosystems, habitat-specific terrestrial ecosystems such as grasslands and forests, human needs/desires-based studies, and a regional Gulf Coast study. Recreation, a cultural ecosystem service, was identified as a priority in all of the projects. Additional high priority services included aesthetic value, the provision of food for human consumption, and biological, nutrient, and water regulation (including filtering or cleansing). Ecosystem services that ranked low for this selection of studies were primarily Supportive services. Although the four categories of services are often shown as weighted equally, the Supportive services primarily ensure the proper function of the other three categories in providing goods and services.

Ecosystem services, and the direct and indirect benefits we derive from them, are dependent on the continued functioning of healthy ecosystems. The biological, chemical, thermal, and physical processes that create these complex ecosystems are interconnected in a matrix that works together to sustain the systems. Disruptions to any of the processes that create or drive an ecosystem have the potential to cause negative downstream effects on the ability to maintain its service capacity.


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Introduction | Previous Research | Understanding Change| Ecosystem services| Resilience assessment| Analytical approach| Conclusions


Preliminary Resilience Assessment


To develop the Resilience Assessment, the methodology developed by the UNU-IAS in 2014 was used as a reference. This methodology provides an initial overview of Resilience for the study area based on the three different scenarios considered. The results are divided into five categories: Landscape/seascape diversity and ecosystem protection, Biodiversity and innovation, Social equality and well-being, Governance and livelihoods, and Economic influence. More information on the different categories is presented below.

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Each category has been analyzed considering 6 different indicators that were developed in conjunction with a series of questions for scoring. The answers Very High (5), High (4), Medium (3), Low (2), Very low (1) provide the rank for each indicator. The final ranks for each category were calculated by taking an average of each indicator’s rank. The selected indicators were tailored to this specific case study with the goal of providing an overview that considers both terrestrial and marine environments.

The final spider graphs provide an easy overview of the variation between the 3 scenarios for the different categories. Category (1) appears to be the most affected by the variation of the scenarios: decreasing for Plan Trend, increasing for Proactive Plus. The variation in conservation policies also strongly influences categories (5) and (4). These results underline the key roles that economy and governance have and will have on the development of current and future resilience strategies.



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Introduction | Previous Research | Understanding Change| Ecosystem services| Resilience assessment| Analytical approach| Conclusions


Analytical Approach


In order to assess the impacts of anticipated changes due to climate and development pressures in the region, a geospatial analysis was developed which considers how marine, coastal, and land-based habitats may be altered. The effects on these natural systems have subsequent implications on many of the ecosystem services discussed previously – particularly food provision, recreation, water regulation, and coastal protection – which are likely to cause negative consequences for the region’s current and future residents.

Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″] [More info] [/popup] has developed a suite of models, known as InVEST, to estimate the importance of ecosystem services using science-based, qualitative and semi-quantitative methods. For this project, the Coastal Vulnerability model was selected, due to tropical storms affecting the southwest Florida study region roughly once every three years (FEMA, 2005).

This model uses locally-derived, high resolution spatial data to calculate a storm surge and wave vulnerability index, which considers geomorphology, nearshore bathymetry, and natural habitats that provide protective capacity. The model was run based on current (2016) conditions, as well as evaluating changes to the shoreline due to sea level rise through 2060, and increased vulnerability due to population growth along the coast.

Damage to homes in Punta Gorda from Hurricane Charley (FEMA, 2004)

Spatial coastal vulnerability factors considered in the InVEST model.

The final section of this website presents a summary of the results of the habitat analysis and coastal vulnerability assessment. Additional links are provided for more details on the results and further information about the studies and papers that were referenced for the Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative in southwest Florida.


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Introduction | Previous Research | Understanding Change| Ecosystem services| Resilience assessment| Analytical approach| Conclusions

Results / Conclusions


The InVEST model shows the uneven distribution of vulnerability along the coastline of the study region, due to differences in geomorphology and the presence of habitats such as marshes and mangroves that provide a protective buffer.

The habitat change assessment also highlights which terrestrial and marine habitats could experience the greatest impacts, based on the urban growth and sea level rise scenarios. Areas where resilient habitats may be displaced or protected from development were also identified.

This study illustrates how different development and conservation policies may influence the resilience of southwest Florida’s lands, waters, and growing population. Further research should focus on how critical ecosystem services help to ensure the well-being of locally significant species, protect lives and property, and buffer these valuable ecosystems from the pressures of a changing climate.



Additional information about this project, including datasets and complete results is available through the [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″] PFLCC Conservation Planning Atlas [/popup].

This website and its content were developed by [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″] GeoAdaptive, LLC [/popup]. We would like to acknowledge the funding and support of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″] Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative [/popup], as well as the wealth of knowledge from past research that helped to guide and inform this effort. A complete list of references and links is provided below.


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Introduction | Previous Research | Understanding Change| Ecosystem services| Resilience assessment| Analytical approach| Conclusions