Measuring Nature's Benefits
A Preliminary Roadmap for Improving Ecosystem Service Indicators
This paper compiles and assesses current ecosystems services indicators in order to inform and advance such efforts.
The analysis found significant limitations in the capacity of the indicators assessed to support policy-makers’ use of ecosystem service concepts, specifically:
- The ability of indicators to convey information about ecosystem services is low overall, although it varies widely among services;
- The indicators available for most ecosystem services are not comprehensive and are often inadequate to characterize the diversity and complexity of the benefits they provide;
- Data are often insufficient to support the use of these indicators; and
- Indicators for regulating and cultural services lag behind provisioning services in each of the limitations identified above.
Ecosystem services are the benefits that people derive from nature. Some benefits, such as crops, fish, and freshwater (provisioning services), are tangible. Others such as pollination, erosion regulation, climate regulation (regulating services) and aesthetic and spiritual fulfillment (cultural services) are less tangible. All, however, directly or indirectly underpin human economies and livelihoods.
Despite their critical importance, the capacity of ecosystems to provide these myriad services are being degraded at an alarming rate. In 2005 the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), a four-year study of the state of the world’s ecosystems involving more than 1,300 experts from 95 countries, reported that over 60 percent of ecosystem services were already degraded. This negative trend, they concluded, was set to continue at an accelerating pace over the next half century.
The ecosystem services conceptual framework provided by the MA has proven effective for communicating how ecosystems underlie human well-being. Early efforts to apply ecosystem services concepts and information have strengthened both public and private sector development strategies and improved environmental outcomes.
However, mainstreaming ecosystem services concepts more broadly will require information designed for policy-makers, including data, decision support tools, and “indicators”—information that condenses complexity to a manageable level and informs decisions and actions (Bossel, 1999). Knowing where indicators and data are already sufficient to inform policy-makers’ understanding of ecosystem services, and where they fall short, will help inform such mainstreaming efforts in international and national arenas. This paper compiles and assesses current ecosystems services indicators in order to inform and advance such efforts.