Ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation

Gunung Lumut, Kalimantan Timur, Indonesia, November 2005.

Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect benefits that people derive from ecosystems including the production of goods (e.g. food, water, raw materials), process that support and regulate life (e.g. regulation of water flows, climate regulation, moderation of extreme events, carbon sequestration) and cultural connections that enhance human experience (e.g. scenic beauty, recreation, cultural heritage). We are increasingly aware of how vital these services are to human wellbeing globally, and the urgent need to prevent their loss or degradation.

Our research looks at how we can quantify ecosystem services and their relationships with biodiversity, and how we can incorporate the value of ecosystem services into decision-making and landscape planning. This is precisely the kind of research that will be fundamental for the new Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which will place biodiversity and ecosystem services at the forefront of national and global policy.

We have assessed how much of a contribution are assessments of ecosystem services actually making. We adapted a structured decision making framework for ecosystem services and reviewed the scientific literature finding that ecosystem service assessments are not covering all elements of the decision-making process. The assessments we reviewed were particularly poor at involving stakeholders in setting transparent objectives and developing user-related measures of the delivery of ecosystem services (Figure 1 below). For the ecosystem service paradigm to gain traction in science and policy arenas, future ecosystem service assessments should have clearly articulated objectives, seek to evaluate the consequences of alternative management actions, and facilitate closer engagement between scientists and stakeholders.

The types of questions we ask:

Understanding and mapping ecosystem services

  • How can we model and map the flows of ecosystem services, as the full set of processes from ecosystem sources to human beneficiaries?
  • What are the trade-offs or interactions among different ecosystem services?
  • What are the consequences of drivers of change (e.g. climate change and land use change) for ecosystem services and biodiversity?
  • How effective are management actions in conserving or restoring ecosystem services?
  • Are we using the growing body of ecosystem services research to make decisions?

Landscape planning for multiple objectives

  • How can we integrate ecosystem services into decision-making, and handle the complexity of ecosystem service flows in space and time?
  • What are the synergies or trade-offs between ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation?
  • How can landscape planning optimise objectives for ecosystem services, biodiversity, and equitable development? carbon

Ecosystem Services markets

With the rapid growth and interest in carbon markets (and other ecosystem service financial incentives), we are exploring the benefits and also the potential for perverse outcomes from such investments. In particular, we are interested in answering questions such as:

  • How can biodiversity considerations best be integrated into markets for ecosystem services, to maximise benefits and minimise possible harms?
  • How we can best evaluate (the mostly) shorter-term commercial interests in ecosystem service markets against longer-term objectives, or opportunities that are forgone?

Read these stories in Decision Point magazine…

DPoint93_cover-156x220Balancing trade-offs between land-use policy objectives

Conservation and economic paradigms are shifting. In decades past it seemed fine to dedicate land to either conservation or production. But more recently we realise that this is inadequate to save all biodiversity, particularly where we want and need it. We live in a world of complexity and competing objectives: multiple stakeholders, multiple uses of the same land and multiple goals (effectiveness, efficiency and equity). Given this complexity, why, where, and how do we best conserve nature?

We’ve been working on a few different ways to understand how policy… read more

DPoint94_cover-156x220Making more of the concept of ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. In recent years they have become an important concept in science and policy arenas. This is reflected in a substantial growth in scientific research and widespread calls for integrating ecosystem services into management decisions. But how much of a contribution are assessments of ecosystem services actually making? We reviewed the scientific literature (Figure 1) and found that ecosystem service assessments are not covering all elements of the decision-making process. The assessments we reviewed were particularly poor at involving stakeholders in setting objectives and developing user-related measures… read more


Kerrie WilsonJessie Wells Elizabeth LawMaria Martinez-Harms, Sugeng Budiharta


Hugh PossinghamJonathan RhodesErik MeijaardPatricia BalvaneraBrett Bryan Paul DargushThilak Mallawaarachchi Lex Hovani

Linked themes

Land management strategies


Borneo, Chile

Other links

DiversitasIPBES,  Natural Capital ProjectTEEB – The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Ecosystem Services Partnership 

Key references

Wells, J., Wilson, KA., Abram, N., Nunn, M., Gaveau, D., Runting, R,. Tarniati, N., Mengersen, K., Meijaard, E. 2016. Rising floodwaters: Mapping impacts and perceptions of flooding in Indonesian Borneo. Environmental Research Letters. 11: 064016

Kragt M.E., Gibson, F.L., Maseyk, F., and Wilson, K.A. 2016. Public willingness to pay for carbon farming and its co-benefits. Ecological Economics. 126: 125-131.

Wilson, K.A. and Law, E.L. 2015. How to avoid underselling biodiversity with ecosystem services. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 30(11): 641-648.

Law EA, Bryan BA, Meijaard E, Mallawarachchi T, Struebig M, Wilson KA (2015) Ecosystem services from a degraded peatland of Central Kalimantan: implications for policy, planning, and management. Ecological Applications. 25, 70-87

Budiharta, S., Slik, F., Raes, N., Meijaard, E., Erskine, P. and Wilson. K.A. 2014. Estimating the Aboveground Biomass of Bornean Forest. Biotropica. 46, 5: 507-511.

Martinez-Harms, M. J., B. A. Bryan, P. Balvanera, E. A. Law, J. R. Rhodes, H. P. Possingham, and K. A. Wilson. 2015. Making decisions for managing ecosystem services. Biological Conservation. 184: 229-238.

Broch, S.W., Strange, N., Jacobsen, J.B. and Wilson, K.A. 2013. Farmers’ willingness to provide ecosystem services and effects of their spatial distribution. Ecological Economics 92: 78-86.