Conceptual ambiguity hinders measurement and management of ecosystem disservices.

Published online
26 Nov 2020
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Saunders, M. E.
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The term 'ecosystem disservices' is used to refer to ecological costs that humans experience from nature. Managing ecosystems to protect ecosystem function and minimize costs to human well-being is a global imperative. Like ecosystem services, disservices are outcomes of ecological processes and interactions. They are supplied concurrently with ecosystem services, not as isolated outcomes of ecosystem function. Therefore, accurate measurement of disservices must identify the ecological interactions contributing to the disservice, as well as any associated services. Despite regular calls for increased rigour around measuring services and disservices, conceptual and methodological ambiguities dominate the ecosystem disservices literature. A systematic literature review revealed 85 studies that aimed to explicitly identify or measure ecosystem disservices. Only 13 studies met both essential criteria for an empirical assessment of disservices: identification of the ecological interactions supplying the disservice and identification of associations between services and disservices. Most empirical studies identify ecosystem disservices based on subjective opinions or proxy data, and rarely acknowledge how disservices are related to services within the system. Some identify the presence of unwanted organisms, management costs, minor nuisances and personal aversions as ecosystem disservices. Synthesis and applications. Disservices are supplied concurrently with ecosystem services and human perceptions do not always accurately represent ecological costs in social-ecological systems. Hence, knowledge of the ecological interactions underlying perceived and actual disservices is vital for evidence-informed decision-making that sustains biodiversity and human well-being.

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