ecosystem servicesHow ecosystem services can better inform environmental decisions

Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. In recent years they have become an important concept in science and policy arenas. This is reflected in a substantial growth in scientific research and widespread calls for integrating ecosystem services into management decisions. But how much of a contribution are assessments of ecosystem services actually making?

We reviewed the scientific literature and found that ecosystem service assessments are not covering all elements of the decision-making process. The assessments we reviewed were particularly poor at involving stakeholders in setting objectives and developing user-related measures of the delivery of ecosystem services.

Assessments of ecosystem service have incorporated a variety of ecological, social, abiotic, land use, and economic data, although it is unclear whether this reflects a desire to better understand the social-ecological context per se. We observed preferences towards particular types of data for estimating different categories of ecosystem service. For example, economic data have been mainly used for provisioning services such as food or water provision; ecological data for regulating services such as climate regulation and flood control; social data for cultural services such as recreation and tourism; and land-use and land-cover data for both provisioning and regulating services.

Overall, we observed a strong preference towards the incorporation of land-use and land-cover data in ecosystem service assessments. A more comprehensive evaluation of the social-ecological context would involve identifying what stakeholders wanted to know about different services and who are the potential beneficiaries. We also need to evaluate access to capital, technology and labour. These aspects ultimately determine the provision or perceived value of many services and would provide a more explict appraisal of the socio-ecological context.

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