Tag Archives: Ecosystem services

Readings on ES in a Social-Ecological Context (with a resilience emphasis)

Recently I developed a short reading list for PhD students working on ecosystem services at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.  This list seeks to cover and introduce a broad area of ecosystem service research with a focus on understanding ecosystem services in a social-ecological context, with a special focus on resilience.


  1. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. MA Conceptual framework.  Chapter 1 in Ecosystems and Human WellBeing: Status and Trends. Island Press (Washington, DC). [available online at: http://www.csrc.sr.unh.edu/~lammers/MacroscaleHydrology/Papers/MilleniumAssessment-ResponsesAssessment-01-MA%20Conceptual%20Framework.aspx.pdf]
  2. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005.  Analytical Approaches for Assessing  Ecosystem Condition and Human Well-being.  Chapter 2 in Ecosystems and Human WellBeing: Status and Trends. Island Press (Washington, DC). [available online at: http://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/public-events/archiv/alter-net/former-ss/2009/06.09.2009/cramer/literature/de_fries_et_al_mea.pdf

Ecology and ES

  1. Kremen, C. (2005). Managing ecosystem services: what do we need to know about their ecology?. Ecology Letters, 8(5), 468-479.
  2. Lavorel, S., Grigulis, K., Fourier, J. & Cedex, G. (2012) How fundamental plant functional trait relationships scale-up to trade-offs and synergies in ecosystem services. Journal of Ecology, 100, 128–140.

Institutions & ES

  1. Jack, B.K., Kousky, C. & Sims, K.R.E. (2008) Designing payments for ecosystem services: Lessons from previous experience with incentive-based mechanisms. PNAS, 105, 9465–70.
  2. Muradian, R., Corbera, E., Pascual, U., Kosoy, N. & May, P.H. (2010) Reconciling theory and practice: An alternative conceptual framework for understanding payments for environmental services. Ecological Economics, 69, 1202–1208.
  3. Rathwell, K. J., and G. D. Peterson. 2012. Connecting social networks with ecosystem services for watershed governance: a social-ecological network perspective highlights the critical role of bridging organizationsEcology and Society 17(2): 24.
  4. van Noordwijk, M., & Leimona, B. (2010). Principles for Fairness and Efficiency in Enhancing Environmental Services in Asia: Payments, Compensation, or Co-Investment? Ecology and Society15(4), 17.

Proposed Framework Extensions

  1. Chan, Kai MA, et al. 2012 Where are cultural and social in ecosystem services? A framework for constructive engagement. BioScience 62(8): 744-756.
  2. Daw, T., Brown, K., Rosendo, S. & Pomeroy, R. 2011 Applying the ecosystem services concept to poverty alleviation: the need to disaggregate human well-being. Environmental Conservation, 38, 370–379.
  3. Daniel, T. C., Muhar, A., Arnberger, A., Aznar, O., Boyd, J. W., Chan, K., … & von der Dunk, A. 2012. Contributions of cultural services to the ecosystem services agenda. PNAS109(23), 8812-8819.
  4. Fisher, B., Turner, R. & Morling, P. (2009) Defining and classifying ecosystem services for decision making. Ecological Economics, 68, 643–653.

ES & Resilience

  1. Biggs, R., Schlüter, M., Biggs, D., Bohensky, E. L., BurnSilver, S., Cundill, G., … & West, P. C. (2012). Toward Principles for Enhancing the Resilience of Ecosystem Services. Annual Review of Environment and Resources37(1).
  2. Enfors et al., 2008 Making investments in dryland development work: participatory scenario planning in the Makanya catchment, Tanzania.  Ecology and Society, 13 (2)42
  3. Raudsepp-Hearne, C., Peterson, G.D., Tengö, M., Bennett, E.M., Holland, T., Benessaiah, K., MacDonald, G.K. & Pfeifer, L. (2010) Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox: Why Is Human Well-being Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade? BioScience, 60, 576–589.

Tradeoffs & Bundles of ES

  1. Bennett, E.M., Peterson, G.D. & Gordon, L.J. (2009) Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services. Ecology Letters, 12, 1394–404.
  2. Raudsepp-Hearne, C., Peterson, G.D. & Bennett, E.M. (2010) Ecosystem service bundles for analyzing tradeoffs in diverse landscapes. PNAS, 107, 5242–7.
  3. Nelson, E., Mendoza, G., Regetz, J., Polasky, S., Tallis, H., Cameron, Dr., Chan, K.M., Daily, G.C., Goldstein, J., Kareiva, P.M., Lonsdorf, E., Naidoo, R., Ricketts, T.H. & Shaw, Mr. (2009) Modeling multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, commodity production, and tradeoffs at landscape scales. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7, 4–11.


  1. Cowling, R.M., Egoh, B., Knight, A.T., O’Farrell, P.J., Reyers, B., Rouget’ll, M., Roux, D.J., Welz, A. & Wilhelm-Rechman, A. (2008) An operational model for mainstreaming ecosystem services for implementation. PNAS, 105, 9483–9488.
  2. Daily, G.C., Polasky, S., Goldstein, J., Kareiva, P.M., Mooney, H. a, Pejchar, L., Ricketts, T.H., Salzman, J. & Shallenberger, R. (2009b) Ecosystem services in decision making: time to deliver. Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment, 7, 21–28.
  3. O’Farrell, P. J., Anderson, P. M., Le Maitre, D. C., & Holmes, P. M. (2012). Insights and opportunities offered by a rapid ecosystem service assessment in promoting a conservation agenda in an urban biodiversity hotspotEcology and Society17(3), 27.

Questions + Futures

  1. Carpenter, S.R., Mooney, H. a, Agard, J., Capistrano, D., Defries, R.S., Díaz, S., Dietz, T., Duraiappah, A.K., Oteng-Yeboah, A., Pereira, H.M., Perrings, C., Reid, W. V, Sarukhan, J., Scholes, R.J. & Whyte, A.  2009. Science for managing ecosystem services: Beyond the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. PNAS, 106, 1305–12.
  2. Kinzig, A., Perrings, C., Chapin III, F., Polasky, S., Smith, V., Tilman, D. & Turner II, B. 2011. Paying for Ecosystem Services — Promise and Peril. Science, 334, 603–604.
  3. Kremen, C. and R.S. Ostfeld. 2005. A call to ecologists: measuring, analyzing, and managing ecosystem services. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 3:10:540-548.
  4. Norgaard, R.B. 2010. Ecosystem services: From eye-opening metaphor to complexity blinder. Ecological Economics, 69, 1219–1227.

This list over emphasizes the research from Stockholm Resilience Centre, which is useful for us, but probably not for those with other interests.  For those who are interested – I have a broader open Mendeley of papers of ecosystem services – here.

Please suggest papers that our students should be reading in the comments.


Impacts of Geoengineering on Biodiversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity just released a report [PDF] put together by their Liaison Expert group on geo-engineering and biodiversity. The report – to which I have contributed as one of several lead authors – brings together peer-reviewed literature on expected impacts of a suite of geoengineering technologies, on biodiversity and ecosystem services. The last chapter also elaborates social, economical and ethical dimensions as they relate to the technologies’ impacts on biodiversity. Key messages include:

10. There is no single geoengineering approach that currently meets all three basic criteria for effectiveness, safety and affordability.  Different techniques are at different stages of development, mostly theoretical, and many are of doubtful effectiveness. Few, if any, of the approaches proposed above can be considered well-researched; for most, the practicalities of their implementation have yet to be investigated, and mechanisms for their governance are potentially problematic.  Early indications are that several of the techniques, both SRM [Solar Radiation Management, my addition] and CDR [Carbon Dioxide Removal, my addition], are unlikely to be effective at the global scale.
42. Geoengineering raises a number of questions regarding the distribution of resources and  impacts within and among societies and across time. Access to natural resources is needed for some geoengineering techniques. Competition for limited resources can be expected to increase if land-based CDR techniques emerge as a competing activity for land, water and energy use. The distribution of impacts (both positive and negative) of SRM geoengineering is unlikely to be uniform – neither are the impacts of climate change itself. (Section 6.3.4)

Ecosystem services and poverty alleviation

Ecosystem services for poverty alleviation (ESPA) is an exciting new research programme funded by a consortium of development and science agencies in the UK. I’m on ESPA’s international advisory board and they asked me for some thoughts on the ecosystem service science. Below is what I wrote:

The concept of “Ecosystem services” is a powerful idea that bridges the conceptual separation of the ecological and the social, to connect ecosystems to human well-being. The success of this idea has lead to many “payment for ecosystem service” schemes, which are now being implemented or are being discussed. These plans have the potential to channel substantial amounts of money into the enhancement of the natural capital, which produces ecosystem services, in ways that improve the livelihoods of the world’s poorest.

The challenge of ecosystem service research is that the policy success of the idea of ecosystem services has rapidly outstripped its scientific basis. This situation presents many risks that efforts may be wasted on activities that actively damage natural capital or reduce the livelihoods of the poor. More specifically in terms of poverty alleviation, ecosystem service research has sometimes merely  biological research coated with a veneer of social relevance, rather than using social needs to focus ecological research. Achieving positive outcomes, and avoiding negative ones requires a much richer understanding of ecosystem services than now exists. Below I suggest some ecosystem service research challenges that it would be useful for ESPA research to address.

Research Challenges
Effective ecosystem services assessment: Scientists and practitioners need to develop faster, cheaper ways of assessing the state of multiple ecosystem services, especially in data sparse regions. A better understanding of the following points would help design more effective assessments.
Bundles of ecosystem services: We need to better understand how multiple ecosystem services interact with one another over time. Are they tightly or weakly integrated? Over what scales? What are the social and ecological processes that connect them? In particular what are the trade-offs or synergisms between multiple ecosystem services? This issue is particularly import if we are to avoid situations where investment in specific ecosystem services (e.g. food production or carbon sequestration) results in reducing in other ecosystem services whose losses outweighs the benefits obtained for the increases. This is particularly important to ensure that increases in agricultural production actually increase human well-being.

Dynamics of ecosystem services: Most analyses of ecosystems services have been static, and there has been too much focus on species role in producing ecosystem services and too little on either social or spatial processes shape the supply of ecosystem services. We need to develop better ways to assess how multiple ecosystem services vary and change over time, and understand what are the key social, ecological and geographic factors that drive these changes. In particular it is important to understand what internal and external social and ecological dynamics can produce abrupt changes in ecosystem services (or alternatively what processes can produce resilience). Understanding these factors is important to know when are where abrupt changes are likely to occur, what can be done to avoid unwanted abrupt changes, or alternatively what can be done to promote desired abrupt changes.

Enhancing ecosystem services: Poverty reduction requires enhancing the supply of ecosystem services in degraded ecosystems, but other than agricultural research on provisioning services there has been relatively little work on how to effectively increase ecosystem services. Much environmental research assumes people have a negative impact on ecosystems, but people can improve ecosystem functioning (e.g. Terra Preta – the high productivity soil produced by pre-Columbian Amazonian civilizations). Social, ecological and technological processes can be used separately or in combination to improve ecosystem services, but while there has been a lot of research on the built environment, there has been little research on how ecological infrastructures can be built, enhanced and maintained. We need to better understand how to do enhance ecosystem services, especially how poor people can do it in degraded ecosystems, in wild and human dominated ecosystems, as well as in rural and urban locations.

Governing ecosystem services: It is currently unclear what are effective ways to govern ecosystem services. Today there is often a haphazard assignment of property rights to ecosystem services without analysis or research on the ecological and social consequences, or resilience of these strategies. Ecosystem services present multiple challenges in that their consumption, production and management occur at different scales making it difficult to connect ecosystem system services to existing property or land management. Furthermore, research has shown that not only can payment for ecosystem service schemes have negative impacts on other ecosystem services, but also that payments can erode the social norms and practices that are producing ecosystem services. These problems suggest that institutional innovation and experimentation is needed to develop effective institutions to govern ecosystem services – especially to enhance the wellbeing of the poor, and that the design of such programmes should not be done from a narrow economic perspective.

Human well-being and ecosystem services: How do changes in the supply of ecosystem services alter human wellbeing? People depend on ecosystem services, but we know little about how much benefit different people receive from different ecosystem services. What we do know is largely about either multiple benefits of food production or the economic benefits of tourism. We know little about how either regulating ecosystem services relate to human wellbeing, or how ecosystem services contribute to multiple aspects of human wellbeing. Addressing this issue in multiple ways is critical to understanding the connection between ecosystem services and poverty reduction. In particular better understanding how to develop agricultural landscapes that provide a diverse set of ecosystem services to the poor. Contributing to clarifying these relationships would be a major benefit of ESPA. In particular a richer understanding of how ecosystem services contribute to diverse aspects of human wellbeing, such as health, security, and good social relations, is important to be able to accurately value ecosystem services.

The above research challenges are written in a telegraphic form that is relatively unsupported. Some of these issues are raised and discussed in greater length in three recent papers I co-authored:

Two PhD positions on governance of ecosystem services in Southern and Eastern Afric

Two PhD positions at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.  Applications are due May 2nd.  The positons are with a project Governance of ecosystem services under scenarios of change in southern and eastern Africa, funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).  To address the question  How may ecosystem assessments be best designed and applied for poverty alleviation?

One student will focus mainly on mapping and modelling of ecosystem services drawing on methodologies from the natural and systems sciences, while the other will focus primarily on governance of ecosystem services drawing more strongly on methodologies from the social sciences.

Both students will work on case studies in the Eastern Cape and/or Western Cape regions of South Africa , as well as in Madagascar, depending on their interests and skills. We envisage that the two students will work together closely to share experiences and insights, and advance novel social-ecological understanding of the case studies and methods for assessing and managing ecosystem services.

The students will need to spend at least 6 months/year in Stockholm the first two years and part of the year during the remaining period.

Position 1: Mapping ecosystem services and regime shifts in a poverty context
There are currently a limited range of approaches available to measure, quantify, assess and display data on ecosystem services. Many of these approaches are quite data intensive in their requirements and to date have not been applied in the management of African ecosystems and services.

This project aims to develop new methods for assessing multiple ecosystem services which can be applied in data poor situations. In particular, this project aims to understand how the “bundle” of ecosystem services associated with a particular social-ecological system may change under different future scenarios. We envisage paying particular attention to the potential for “regime shifts” — large, persistent changes in social-ecological systems and their trajectories of development (e.g., rangeland degradation, or the shift from subsistence to commercial farming).

Such shifts can have large impacts on ecosystem services and human well-being, and the data collected in this study will be incorporated into the developing global Regime Shifts Database.

The student will be supervised by Dr. Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs (Stockholm Resilience Centre,Sweden ), Dr. Belinda Reyers (CSIR,South Africa ) and Prof. Thomas Elmqvist (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden).

More details about the position and how to apply herePDF (pdf, 50 kB)

Position 2: Governing ecosystem services and regime shifts in a poverty context
How do bundles of ecosystem services co-vary with local livelihood strategies, ecological knowledge, and social organization? A combination of qualitative and quantitative social science methods and spatial tools such as participatory GIS will be used to identify and map how local ecosystem management, land use, and institutional structures across scales interact with and respond to the dynamics of multiple ecosystem services.

In particular, the project will focus on implications for amplifying or moderating the potential for so called regime shifts, i.e. large persistent changes in ecosystem services. The project will also assess barriers and bridges for improved governance of multiple ecosystem services at local and regional scales that allows for sustainable poverty alleviation in Southern Africa.

The student will be supervised by Dr. Maria Tengö and Prof. Thomas Elmqvist (Dept of Systems Ecology & Stockholm Resilience Centre).

More details about the position and how to apply herePDF (pdf, 50 kB)

Green light for IPBES

UN agreed to establish the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

IPBES write hopefully on their homepage

This is a major event in the world of biodiversity and ecosystem services as the IPCC-like platform will bridge the gulf between the wealth of scientific  knowledge on the accelerating declines and degradation of the natural world, with knowledge on effective solutions and decisive government action required to reverse these damaging trends.

Lessons from Diversitas

The second Diversitas Open Science Conference was recently held in Capetown South Africa.  Eminent South African ecologist from Harry Biggs, writes What I learnt from the Diversitas Conference:

• Governance issues (esp. science-policy and science-management links) have become far more respectable in such fora, now filling much programme time. For instance, Anantha Duraiappah from Kenya gave a keynote entitled “Managing ecosystem services, institutions, property rights and scales”.

• Gretchen Daily (of ecosystem services and other fame) spoke of mainstreaming conservation “beyond parks, beyond charity, and beyond biodiversity”; while Pavan Sukhdev (a dynamic banker who has thrown his weight fully behind the Diversitas cause) spoke of getting beyond the point where biodiversity is now, merely a “luxury for the rich and a necessity for the poor”. He referred to the increasing use of the concept “ecological infrastructure” as conceptually similar to, say, constructed infrastructure in the traditional sense, and the imperative to invest in maintaining or rehabilitating this.

Daily and others are working on the following useful representation of the different processes we have to make work together if we are to succeed. The right-hand part was referred to by others as “the (traditional) science part” and the left-hand part as the part to which we have mostly given too little attention, in attempting to achieve our overall goals:

Much of the meeting was understandably about the difficult field of biodiversity targets. Daily suggested three types of targets:
BLUE – absolute ecosystem tipping points e.g. rates of climate change too fast
GREEN – societal choices about the desired state e.g. no more bird extinctions
RED – situations we must avoid e.g. imminent coral reef collapse (in my view some overlap with BLUE)

• Sukhdev and many others spoke about TEEB (The economics of ecosystem services and biodiversity), which, although young and developing, promises to make major impacts in our field. See www.teebweb.org.

Sukhdev pointed to sensible ways to deal complexity, feeling scientists often impeded progress because of what he called the “Popperian trap” of demanding ridiculous levels of proof sometimes even when it was absurd to do so, and when Rome was clearly burning. The ideas in the Precautionary Principle will have to be used, but in a more complexity-friendly way.

In my opinion we will as a community have to reconcile these needs, and not only use Mode 1 Science. Importantly, he reflected the invariable TEEB finding that returns on investment for just about all ecosystem services make for very profitable business, suggesting that one day soon these may really take off. My conclusion – perhaps we are poised for major changes in thinking. In additional, many speakers referred to “bundles” of related services as more realistic than looking at one service e.g. carbon sequestration, in isolation – in the same way that multi-species models or interventions often radically change outcomes when compared to single-species ones.

via Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog