Ecosystem services in the context of Anthropocene
The Anthropocene and ecosystem services are closely linked concepts. The Anthropocene is defined as the new epoch where human influence is the dominant factor in ecological change. Ecosystem services are used to understand both the benefits humans receive from nature and the impacts of human society on nature. By measuring ecosystem services and quantifying their benefits, we can understand how human activities are changing the natural systems we rely on for clean air, clean water, food, and spiritual renewal.
Over the past two decades, the concept of ecosystem services has found widespread currency in diverse fields ranging from conservation biology to ecological economics. The formulation of ecosystem services as the direct benefits that people receive from nature has resulted in a dominant research paradigm for ecosystem services researchers – economic valuation. However, valuation of ecosystem services is only one way to improve our understanding of human’s relationship with and impacts on nature in the Anthropocene. Here, we present a framework for applying the concept of ecosystem services in a range of educational and management situations.
Looking beyond valuation, the concept of ecosystem services is a multi-faceted tool for education about and management of human impacts on natural systems. Educators, land managers, and researchers can use ecosystem services as a:
- Communication and education tool to increase public understanding of the role of natural systems in our everyday lives. In 2005, the publication of the MEA mainstreamed the concept of ecosystem services by providing a comprehensive review of the status of the Earth’s ecosystem services. At a smaller scale, scientists and resource managers can use the concept of ecosystem services to make the benefits of conservation more concrete for non-scientists.
- Decision making tool to aid in the evaluation of management options and environmental tradeoffs. There is increasing interest in using the concept of ecosystem services to aid in natural resources planning, for example in developing Environmental Impact Statements that are easier for the general public to understand.
- Conservation tool through the development of payments for ecosystem services, ecosystem services markets, and other economic incentives to encourage conservation activities.
Together, adoption of these approaches will help improve understanding of human impacts on the environment and management responses to the challenges of the Anthropocene.