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Project Title:
German-Armenian Network on the Advancement of Public Participation GIS for Ecosystem Services as a Means for Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development (GAtES)

Project time period:
2018-2021 (four years)

Lead Partner:
University of Hohenheim (UHOH)

Armenia Partner:
American University of Armenia (AUA) Acopian Center for the Environment

Funding Agency:
Financed through DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service, with funds from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

Project Description:
Starting in 2018, the University of Hohenheim (UHOH) and the American University of Armenia’s (AUA) Acopian Center for the Environment are collaborating on a 4-year academic exchange program funded by DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service. The project’s full title is the German-Armenian Network on the Advancement of Public Participation GIS for Ecosystem Services as a Means for Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development. Expediently, the acronym GAtES is used to refer to the project.

Internationally, Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) approaches for ecosystem services have become particularly vibrant academic and practitioner fields as they allow for integrating information on perceived ecosystem services with biophysical data (e.g. on biodiversity, erosion processes) and expert-based management plans. The GAtES project supports the AUA faculty and researchers in acquiring knowledge on the ecosystem services concept and PPGIS-based methods and how they can be used in biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. A better understanding of ecosystem services and PPGIS approaches is enabling AUA faculty to embed these concepts in their certificate and minor programs in Environmental Studies. AUA researchers furthermore develop a critical appraisal of PPGIS-based approaches and concepts as well as an ability to apply them in their own research projects. UHOH faculty and students, on the other hand, are gaining experience in international cooperation and developing strategies for advancing biodiversity conservation for forests and pastureland by applying the ecosystem services framework in a post-Soviet context.

The specific activities of the GAtES project include:

Project Background:
Armenia is a global hot-spot of biodiversity. While the country boasts a high level of flora and fauna biodiversity, its rich natural capital is under a multitude of anthropogenic pressures originating from mining, livestock farming, logging, water overuse, and more. Forests and pasturelands are especially affected. Degradation of these ecosystems goes along with a loss of ecosystem services, including provisioning (e.g. timber, food, medicines), regulating (e.g. water storage, erosion control) and cultural services (e.g. cultural heritage, ecotourism).

The ecosystem services concept has become a key tool in strategies for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, effective for instance in terms of raising public awareness for the environment and its values as well as informing planning and decision-making. In recent years, the Armenian government has taken some steps to harness the ecosystem services framework for sustainable development. The concept, however, is still a novel in the country and the Armenian education and research sector is largely disconnected from the developments in the global scientific community. This project will, in part, address this gap, esp. with regard to integrating interests and concerns of local stakeholders into biodiversity and ecosystem services conservation.