John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Ecosystem services and environmental decision making: Seeking order in complexity

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Courtesy of John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

The concept that the sustainability of human well‐being and commercial development is dependent upon the preservation of natural resources is certainly not new but given the importance of sustaining ecosystem services (EsS) for human well‐being, the EsS concept is increasingly a component or even an underlying principle of environmental policy, legislation and management internationally. What these approaches have in common is that the assessment and valuation of ecosystem services, the benefits humans get from ecosystems, is a focus of the decisions they inform. Thus, if a paradigm is defined as “a world view, a general perspective, a way of breaking down the complexity of the real world”, then the focus on EsS within frameworks can be seen as the application of an Ecosystem Services Paradigm (EsSP). The EsSP provides an anthropocentric, ecosystem‐focused framework describing the ecological and human costs and benefits of our choices about land and aquatic management. It can be used to define links between human activities and ecosystems, and ecosystems and the services that in turn support and sustain those and other activities; this information can then be used to evaluate, justify or optimize decisions. Adapting and integrating those tools that have traditionally been used to address sectoral management within a broader approach that seeks to address EsS will require not only the development, adaptation and validation of new approaches, but also cross‐disciplinary collaboration at an unprecedented level. However, how EsS within various practical applications and frameworks are applied, defined, quantified, modelled, valued and communicated ranges widely, potentially hindering their roles as cross‐sectoral tools. Various groups are using different language to mean the same thing, as well as the same terms to mean different things, often will little explicit discussion of the definitions, assumptions and models embedded in their work. For this paradigm to be useful for cross‐disciplinary integration, it is important that practitioners in different fields are clear about what is meant and assumed when terms are used, and within what context assessments are being carried out. This paper briefly reviews “taxonomies” of various aspects of EsSP applications, based upon their decision context, perspective and assessment approach. It then examines, with a focus on European issues, a range of current and emerging regulatory and management applications to which the EsSP can be applied in light of this taxonomy. Integr Environ Assess Manag © 2012 SETAC

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