Ecosystem Services Lack Congruence with Conservation Priorities

New research published in PNAS indicates that although policy is successful in designating areas to protect biodiversity, these areas rarely environ ecosystem services. The lack of congruence is such that, in terms of protecting ecosystem services, these areas could be considered to have been selected completely at random.

The authors call for much more research into elucidating the mechanisms that underpin how ecosystems confer well-being to humans. Although the EU has a strong policy initiative to conserve biodiversity (Nature 2000 Network, 2008), policy to incorporate ecosystem services within this framework remains in its infancy.

Currently the way that ecosystem services are valued remains fairly crude, based on a seminal paper written years ago (Constanza et al., 1997), and yet most research in this area continues to use these crude methods, rather than adapting methods used to identify conservation effort. Creating maps that identify how ecosystem services are globally distributed would be a start, identifying what benefits they provide to local people and what threats they face is an essential next step to make.

Four ecosystem services were the focus of the research: carbon sequestration, water provision, grassland production of livestock and carbon storage. They found very limited congruence between these services and their measures of conservation effort, (which included biodiversity ‘hotspots‘, and ecoregions – as defined by the WWF. There are many different kinds of ecosystem services in addition to those chosen by the authors, (provision of fuel, clean air, food, well being, medicinal, psychological to name but a few). However they were only able to use the aforementioned, therefore much greater interdisciplinarity work is urgently needed in order to quantify and map the bare minimum ecosystem services.

The authors recognise the limitations of their study; many ecosystem services are limited to the local level, therefore such a coarse global-scale study misses the nuances occurring at smaller spatial scales.

In order to fully assess who benefits from ecosystem services and how, work between sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and ecologists is required. Payments for ecosystems services (PES) are a potential policy option to take the ecosystems approach forward. PES enables stakeholders at the local level to not only benefit financially from the true value of the surroundings they inhabit, but incentivizes them to conserve their surroundings. PES presents the opportunity to simultaneously protect ecosystem services and biodiversity.

Source: Naidoo, R., Balmford, A., Costanza, R., et al. (2008). Global mapping of ecosystem services and conservation priorities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105: 9495-9500.


Costanza R, et al. (1997) The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital.
Nature 387:253–260.

Nature 2000 Network, (2008), Accessed 24 October 2008