Last week, Science for Environment Policy published an in-depth report on Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity, which explores a range of issues including the evidence on whether an ecosystem approach succeeds in protecting biodiversity; mapping techniques of the state of ecosystems and their services and how they change with policy intervention; the strengths and weaknesses of economic valuation and progress being made toward integrated valuation; and the need to consider ecosystem services as part of a wider system.

The report maps out research showing he importance of biodiversity for ecosystem functioning, but will use of the ecosystem services approach protect biodiversity? The report states the answer ‘is likely to be a qualified yes’- the evidence suggesting that high levels of biodiversity will be required for the long term sustaining of all ecosystem services. This is the key message of the report – that multifunctionality and systemic thinking are central to the long term success of the ecosystem services approach. For instance, while one ecosystem service (such as timber provision) may not require biodiversity protection, supporting services such as soil formation and nitrogen cycling, may have a different relationship with biodiversity. Only by looking at the ecosystem as a whole, and over time, can we get a true understanding of the linkages between service provision and the role of biodiversity, trade-offs, synergies and the stable provision of services in the face of change.

This message is revisited when exploring the mapping of ecosystem services; research studying multiple services show complex relationships such that management to maximise one service will not necessarily protect the multifunctionality of the system. Furthermore, the demand for services and the capacity to deliver them will vary across time and location.

Finally, the report explores the complexity of economic valuation of ecosystem services, and the conceptual framework for EU-wide ecosystem assessments which makes the importance of both monetary and non-monetary values explicit. ‘Integrated ecosystem services valuation’ where ecological and cultural value run alongside and integrate with each other and monetary valuation.

An integrated approach to the understanding of the role of biodiversity in ecosystem service, the mapping and valuation of services is a complex and difficult undertaking. But we ignore this requirement at our peril. The report states that ‘an overwhelming focus on maximising provisioning services is thought to be the largest driver of biodiversity loss over the last 50 years.’

The report also offers practical guidance to address these complex issues, citing recommendations from Balvanera et al. (2014) on meta-analyses of ecosystem services and biodiversity, and the integrated valuation work being carried out by the EU-funded OpenNESS project and the Ecosystem Services Partnership thematic working group on value integration.

The report is interesting reading for anyone new to the ecosystem services approach, mapping and valuation, and  for a review of current thinking and the latest research. The report also highlights key research gaps and lessons for management and policy making.

Further Reading:

Putting the Ecosystem Approach into Practice -what can it do for you? Report from the NCI Dialogue Session held with the James Hutton Institute

Linking Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: Current Uncertainties and the Necessary Next Steps Balvanera et al (2014)

A summary of the report’s key messages is available at the following YouTube video: