Ecosystem Services as a Contested Concept: A Synthesis of Critique and Counter-arguments

M. Schröter, E.H. van der Zanden, A.P.E. van Oudenhoven, R.P. Remme, H.M. Serna-Chavez, R.S. de Groot, P. Opdam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

319 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We describe and reflect on seven recurring critiques of the concept of ecosystem services and respective counter-arguments. First, the concept is criticized for being anthropocentric while others argue that it goes beyond instrumental values. Second, some argue that the concept promotes an exploitative human-nature relationship, while others state that it re-connects society to ecosystems, emphasizing humanity's dependence on nature. Third, concerns exist that the concept may conflict with biodiversity conservation objectives while others emphasize complementarity. Fourth, the concept is questioned because of its supposed focus on economic valuation, while others argue that ecosystem services science includes many values. Fifth, the concept is criticized for promoting commodification of nature, while others point out that most ecosystem services are not connected to market-based instruments. Sixth, vagueness of definitions and classifications are stated to be a weakness, while others argue that vagueness enhances transdisciplinary collaboration. Seventh, some criticize the normative nature of the concept implying that all outcomes of ecosystem processes are desirable. The normative nature is indeed typical for the concept, but should not be problematic when acknowledged. By disentangling and contrasting different arguments we hope to contribute to a more structured debate between opponents and proponents of the ecosystem services concept.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)514-523
JournalConservation Letters
Volume7
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords

  • sustainability research
  • saving nature
  • biodiversity
  • conservation
  • science
  • policy
  • benefits
  • classification
  • agriculture
  • valuation

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