University of Vermont

Taylor Ricketts Lab

New paper: Lessons from ecosystem service assessments

NatCap's experience with field applications

Fig. 1. Pathways for and levels of impact of BES information on decisions.

Taylor and many colleagues from the Natural Capital Project published a paper this month in Ecological Economics, reporting on lessons from 8 years of using ecosystem services to inform conservation decisions around the world.  Mary Ruckelshaus led the effort, valiantly herding the rest of us into distilling the lessons, most learned the hard way, from NatCap's experience.

Notes from the field: Lessons learned from using ecosystem services approaches to inform real-world decisions
While there have been rapid advances in assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES), a critical remaining challenge is how to move from scientific knowledge to real-world decision making. We offer 6 lessons from our experiences applying new approaches and tools for quantifying BES in 20 pilot demonstrations: (1) Applying a BES approach is most effective in leading to policy change as part of an iterative science-policy process; (2) simple ecological production function models have been useful in a diverse set of decision contexts, across a broad range of biophysical, social, and governance systems. Key limitations of simple models arise at very small scales, and in predicting specific future BES values; (3) training local experts in the approaches and tools is important for building local capacity, ownership, trust, and long-term success; (4) decision makers and stakeholders prefer to use a variety of BES value metrics, not only monetary values; (5) an important science gap exists in linking changes in BES to changes in livelihoods, health, cultural values, and other metrics of human wellbeing; and (6) communicating uncertainty in useful and transparent ways remains challenging.