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The case for an ecosystem service approach to decision-making: an overview

Joseph Hancock

University of St Andrews, Fife KY16 9TS, UK


15 Oct 2009


10 Mar 2010


11 Apr 2010






ecosystem services, decision-making, millennium ecosystem assessment, ecosystem service approach


The Earth's ecosystems supply human society with a stream of services, the sustained delivery of which remains crucial to our health, economic prosperity and personal and national security. Ecosystem services provide these benefits across a range of geographical scales (local, regional and global) and to many different groups (individuals, businesses and governments). In spite of this, ecosystem services are continually underrepresented and undervalued within decision-making situations. As a result, the capacity of ecosystems to supply a number of services—including the supply of food and freshwater, the regulation of disease and protection from natural hazards—has been degraded worldwide, with serious consequences for human wellbeing. The actions of man are unwittingly depleting the planet's natural capital and putting such strain on the environment that the capacity of Earth's ecosystems to support future generations can no longer be taken for granted. To address this we need a new approach to the way that decisions are made at the interface of the environment and society—one where the benefits and services provided by ecosystems are understood, evaluated and appropriately represented within the decision-making arena. By drawing attention to the failures and consequences of past and present attitudes in decision-making and resource management, this article frames a way forward to help avoid such problems in the future. Specifically, it outlines the rationale behind the need for an ecosystem service approach to decision-making and highlights some of the research needs that will help in selecting policies that sustain ecosystem services.

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