In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ecosystem Services

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Foundational Works
  • Definitions
  • Economic Valuation
  • Dependence on Biodiversity
  • Critiques
  • Decision-Making Tools

Ecology Ecosystem Services
Forest Isbell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0052


Investigations of ecosystem services have journeyed from discussing how people depend on nature, through refining definitions and classification schemes, to accounting for multiple benefits that nature provides for people in decision-making processes. Ecological and economic approaches are becoming increasingly integrated in ecosystem service studies, and a common language is emerging. In particular, landscape-ecological and welfare-economic approaches are often utilized and integrated in these studies. Ecosystem services extend the traditional conservation agenda, offering a fuller consideration of the benefits and costs arising from land-use changes and marine spatial planning. It has also been argued, however, that ecosystem services distract from the original mission of biodiversity conservation. The citations included in this article include foundational works; overviews and assessments; definitions and classification schemes; debates; and applications in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.

General Overviews

Daily 1997 was perhaps the most comprehensive discussion of ecosystem services at the time it was written, and it continues to be an authoritative introduction. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005 reports temporal trends in many ecosystem services worldwide and provides a classification scheme. See Definitions for other classification schemes. National Research Council 2005 and Sukhdev, et al. 2010 emphasize economic valuation methods. Daily, et al. 2009 proposes a framework for robust decision making that accounts for changes in the net benefits that nature provides for people. Kareiva, et al. 2011 shows how information about ecosystem services can inform land-use decision making, and it provides specific models for quantifying and valuing several ecosystem services across a landscape. UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre 2011 reports on the state of nature in the United Kingdom. The Inclusive Wealth Report (UN University 2012) includes chapters on ecosystem services, but note that many types of natural capital were not accounted for in this report’s estimates of national inclusive wealth.

  • Committee on Assessing and Valuing the Services of Aquatic and Related Terrestrial Ecosystems, National Research Council. 2005. Valuing ecosystem services: Toward better environmental decision-making. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

    In this report, a panel of economists and ecologists evaluate economic methods for valuation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem services, emphasizing the importance of further integration between economics and ecology.

  • Daily, G. C., ed. 1997. Nature’s services: Societal dependence on natural ecosystems. Washington, DC: Island.

    This edited book includes chapters considering marine, freshwater, forest, and grassland ecosystem services, as well as many chapters describing a wide range of case studies. It communicates concepts in a manner that is accessible to undergraduate students and nonspecialists.

  • Daily, G. C., S. Polasky, J. Goldstein, et al. 2009. Ecosystem services in decision making: Time to deliver. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 7.1: 21–28.

    DOI: 10.1890/080025

    This paper proposes a conceptual framework for incorporating the value of nature into decision-making processes. It is accessibly written for a broad readership, including students, land managers, and conservationists.

  • Kareiva, P., H. Tallis, T. H. Ricketts, G. C. Daily, and S. Polasky, eds. 2011. Natural capital: Theory and practice of mapping ecosystem services. Oxford Biology. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book, a product of the Natural Capital Project, provides models (i.e., ecological-production functions and economic-valuation functions) for quantifying and mapping ecosystem service supply and shows how this information can inform the land-use planning process. It is accessibly written for researchers and practitioners.

  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being: Synthesis. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Washington, DC: Island.

    This synthesis report summarizes temporal trends in many ecosystem services at global and regional scales. It is easily accessible to policymakers and undergraduate students.

  • Sukhdev, P., H. Wittmer, C. Schröter-Schlaack, et al. 2010. The economics of ecosystems and biodiversity: Mainstreaming the economics of nature; A synthesis of the approach, conclusions and recommendations of TEEB. Geneva, Switzerland: European Commission/UNEP/BMU-Germany.

    This report shows how national and local decision makers, businesses, and the general public can use economic concepts and tools to incorporate the values of nature into decision making.

  • UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. 2011. The UK national ecosystem assessment technical report. Cambridge, UK: UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

    This report provides a comprehensive assessment of the state of nature in the United Kingdom, while also incorporating natural capital into estimates of national wealth.

  • UN University, International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change. 2012. Inclusive wealth report 2012: Measuring progress toward sustainability. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This report introduces an inclusive index of national wealth, which accounts for produced, human, and natural capital. The study concludes that recent gains in human capital (such as education) and recent gains in produced capital (such as buildings) have more than compensated for recent losses in natural capital (such as forests) in many countries.

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