Scenarios for Ecosystem Services a Special Feature in Ecology and Society

Steve Carpenter, Elena Bennett and I, edited a Special Feature on Scenarios for Ecosystem Services in Ecology and Society. The special feature is a open-access collection of seven papers that provides an overview of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Scenarios.


The Scenarios Working Group of the MA was a multi-disciplinary team of 95 ecologists, global modellers, economists, and development researchers from 25 countries. The goal of the scenarios group was to asses the possible futures of ecosystem services to improve ecological policy and management today.

To ensure that these scenarios addressed issues that policymakers face, the MA scenarios team interviewed global leaders from civil society, business and government on what they regarded as critical determinants of the world’s future. These people identified factors including: the role of governments in local, national, and global governance; security; the ability to cope with surprise; learning; and technology. However, while leaders identified similar issues as problems and expressed similar goals, they had substantial disagreement on how to address problems and meet goals.

The scenarios were designed to anticipate what ecological problems and opportunities different policies could create. Consequently, the MA scenarios were designed to incorporate more realistic and detailed ecological dynamics than previous global scenario exercises. Although people modify ecosystems, there are also significant feedbacks from ecosystem change to livelihoods, health, economies, and societies that lead to changes in human systems, engendering further ecosystem change. The ability of societies to manage social–ecological feedbacks is an important aspect of their ability to enhance human well-being. Therefore, the MA scenarios included social–ecological feedbacks, however we have only preliminary scientific understanding of the possible behaviour, extent and consequences of these feedbacks.

The Special Feature begins with an overview paper Carpenter et al (2006) Scenarios for Ecosystem Services: An Overview that explains some of the problems of addressing social-ecological feedbacks and ecosystem services as well as cross-cutting findings that emerged from the scenarios project.

The MA scenarios are described in Cork et al. (2006) Synthesis of the Storylines. This paper also includes a set of illustrations that tries to capture some of the differences among the scenarios for urban and rural locations in the rich and poor regions of the world.

There are no integrated global social-ecological models, therefore the MA analysis cross-checked quantitative and qualitative approaches that were tested against one another. These quantitative and qualitative analyses of the scenarios are found in the remaining five papers, of which the first three are quantitative and final two qualitative.

Nelson et al. (2006) Anthropogenic Drivers of Ecosystem Change: an Overview

Alcamo et al. (2006) Changes in Nature’s Balance Sheet: Model-based Estimates of Future Worldwide Ecosystem Services

van Vuuren et al. (2006) The Future of Vascular Plant Diversity Under Four Global Scenarios.

Rodriguez et al. (2006) Trade-offs across Space, Time, and Ecosystem Services address ecosystem service tradeoffs

Butler and Oluoch-Kosura (2006) Linking Future Ecosystem Services and Future Human Well-being

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