New publication on ecosystem services as a contested concept in Conservation Letters

Published on
March 4, 2014

Ecosystem services are the contributions of ecosystems to human well-being. The ecosystem services concept has gained interest in- and outside of science. However, the concept is also increasingly contested and encounters critique from different scientific disciplines and practitioners. For instance, the concept has been criticised for its supposed anthropocentric and economic focus or its conceptual vagueness.

Several members of the Environmental Systems Analysis Group, together with other colleagues from Wageningen University, Free University Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam, have synthesized this critique as well as respective counter-arguments and their findings have been published in the journal Conservation Letters (online). In their paper, the authors do not only provide an overview of the debate around ecosystem services, they are also among the first to trace and explain the origins of the various critiques and counter-arguments.

The authors conclude that the ecosystem services concept could build a platform to integrate different worldviews, and that science building on the concept is also open for non-monetary valuation approaches. Due to its vague and flexible character, the concept can be considered as a boundary object, which could enable and foster transdisciplinary research processes. Finally, it was perceived that, in the debate around ecosystem services, most authors react on each other’s critiques, rather than addressing the origin of the critique. By unravelling and contrasting different arguments, the authors take a first step towards an informed and structured dialogue between opponents and proponents of the concept.

Schröter, M., van der Zanden, E. H., van Oudenhoven, A. P.E., Remme, R. P., Serna-Chavez, H. M., de Groot, R. S. and Opdam, P. (2014), Ecosystem services as a contested concept: a synthesis of critique and counter-arguments. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12091