Ecosystem services are benefits that humans receive from the functioning of ecosystems regardless of their level of human alteration. The ecosystem services framework includes direct provisioning (food, fibre, fresh water) and cultural services (education, well-being, spiritual inspiration, etc), as well as those that enable them, such as regulation (of erosion, climate, disease, pollination, etc.) and supporting processes such as nutrient cycling, soil formation and primary production. Recently, increasing attention has focused on the importance of ecosystem services to sustain human societies, resulting in calls for increased consideration and protection of ecosystems that sustain services amidst human activities, especially for those that must be generated at the same site where the benefit is accrued – for example, pollination. Not all services can co-exist in the same place at the same time: managing ecosystem services, like all management, involves trade-offs.
There is little argument that the ‘invisible hand’ of nature provides benefits for humans. Less clear is the utility of the ecosystem services framework and its current vogues of application, such as monetary valuation of those services. At the same time as the use of the framework expands from academe into decision-making settings some scholars are starting to question its use. Some examine its underlying rationale, asking how human quality of life can be improving if ecosystem integrity is simultaneously degrading. Others question the application, asking if there is any evidence that the use of the framework has led to better decisions.
Thompson, K., Duinker, P. & Sherren, K., (Early View). Ecosystem services: A new framework for old ideas, or advancing environmental decision-making? Learning from Canadian forerunners to the ES concept. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien
Thompson, K., Sherren, K., & Duinker, P. (2019). The use of ecosystem services concepts in Canadian municipal plans Ecosystem Services, 38, 100950.
Thompson, K., Duinker, P., & Sherren, K. (2016, December). Ecosystem services: a new framework for old ideas? Poster presented at A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES) Conference, Jacksonville FL.
Kate Thompson works doing advising and undergraduate teaching in the Dalhousie School of Planning, and is enrolled in an IDPhD at Dalhousie on this topic, co-supervised by me and SRES colleague Peter Duinker.