Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 1269–1289

Socio-cultural valuation of ecosystem services in a transhumance social-ecological network


    • Social-Ecological Systems LaboratoryUniversidad Autónoma de Madrid
    • Public Administration and Policy GroupWageningen University
  • Berta Martín-López
    • Social-Ecological Systems LaboratoryUniversidad Autónoma de Madrid
  • José A. González
    • Social-Ecological Systems LaboratoryUniversidad Autónoma de Madrid
  • Tobias Plieninger
    • Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of Copenhagen
  • César A. López
    • Social-Ecological Systems LaboratoryUniversidad Autónoma de Madrid
  • Carlos Montes
    • Social-Ecological Systems LaboratoryUniversidad Autónoma de Madrid
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10113-013-0571-y

Cite this article as:
Oteros-Rozas, E., Martín-López, B., González, J.A. et al. Reg Environ Change (2014) 14: 1269. doi:10.1007/s10113-013-0571-y


The ecosystem services framework is receiving increasing attention in the fields of policy and research. The assessment of human attitudes and perceptions regarding ecosystem services has been proposed as a promising tool for addressing complex problems associated with environmental change, particularly in the context of cultural landscapes. Transhumance is not only a farming practice responsible for shaping cultural landscapes but also an adaptive strategy based on mobility that may represent a useful approach to overcoming the growing challenges posed by accelerated environmental change. A socio-cultural valuation of ecosystem services associated with the Conquense Drove Road, one of the major transhumant networks still in use in Mediterranean Spain, was conducted via the distribution of questionnaires to 416 local residents and visitors to capture their perceptions regarding the importance of 34 ecosystem services (10 provisioning, 12 regulating, and 12 cultural) for both social and personal well-being. Overall, the ecosystem services considered to be the most important for social well-being were fire prevention, air purification and livestock. Most of the ecosystem services in question were perceived as declining, with the exception of those associated with recreation, scientific knowledge and environmental education. This study revealed that perceptions regarding the value of ecosystem services differed among respondents, depending on their age, place of origin and gender. Several methodological issues, as well as the implications of socio-cultural valuation for policy making, are also discussed here.


Drove roadsEcosystem servicesHuman well-beingPerceptionRangelandsSpatial and temporal locationsValue


The ecosystem services framework is increasingly being used in environmental management policy and practice (e.g., de Groot et al. 2002; TEEB 2010; Gómez-Baggethun et al. 2010; Hauck et al. 2013). Clear indications of this trend include the recent creation of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the call from the European Union for all member countries to map and assess their ecosystem services by 2014 (European Commission 2011). Such efforts are being built on the science of ecosystem services, which has been fostered globally over the past 10 years (Fisher et al. 2009; Vihervaara et al. 2010). The original objective of ecosystem services assessments was to clarify the multiple interdependencies between human well-being, ecosystems and biodiversity (Daily 1997). Ecosystem services assessments have been performed at different spatial scales (from global to local; MA 2005; EME 2011; Pereira et al. 2005), from various value perspectives (i.e., biophysical, socio-cultural and economic), and with a range of objectives, such as policy-making support, ecosystem services markets information, or academic aims. The central focus of policy-oriented assessments has been to depict the current state, trends and drivers of change in ecosystem services at the national, sub-global and global levels. Local- or regional-scale valuations can also provide important information for larger-scale assessments, as they permit a more in-depth understanding of certain social-ecological systems, ecosystem services and/or land uses. At the same time, local- and regional-scale valuations provide local or regional decision makers with information regarding ecosystem services, their trade-offs and people’s preferences, revealing that the interests of social agents may cause them to value ecosystems differently, depending on the ecosystems’ capacity to provide services that fulfil their own interests (Martín-López et al. 2012).

The mainstreaming of ecosystem services in the policy context has resulted in the application of this framework not only for its original purpose (i.e., as an educational concept to raise public interest concerning biodiversity conservation and human dependence on ecosystems) but increasingly for the quantification of ecosystem services as potentially marketable commodities (Peterson et al. 2010; Gómez-Baggethun et al. 2010). Ecosystem services research has been shaped by the integration of ecological and economic perspectives, which has contributed to a better understanding of human–nature relationships (Turner and Daily 2008); however, several important factors to consider in ecosystem services research have been overlooked by these economic and ecological approaches (Chan et al. 2012a). For example, to date, most studies have focused primarily on monetary and biophysical perspectives, while very few studies have chosen to explore socio-cultural preferences regarding ecosystem services (Vihervaara et al. 2010; Martín-López et al. 2012; Nieto-Romero et al. in press). Hence, the value of ecosystem services should be assessed by focusing not only on the biophysical and the economic dimensions of their value but also on the socio-cultural dimension (Cowling et al. 2008; de Groot et al. 2010), as these three value dimensions can provide complementary information about ecosystem services (Martín-López et al. 2013). If values are defined as “the preferences, principles and virtues that we (up)hold as individuals or groups” (Chan et al. 2012a), valuation methods are not ideologically neutral (Gómez-Baggethun et al. 2010) but rather are culturally constructed and, as such, act as value-articulating institutions that are hence responsible for the articulation of decision-making processes related to the environment (Vatn 2005; Martín-López et al. 2013). Non-economic valuations are particularly appealing, as they offer insights into the motivations for conserving ecosystem services, which are frequently invisible in monetary valuations. Socio-cultural valuation approaches appear to be appreciated in understanding the diversity of values emerging from the ecosystem services spectrum and in analysing how human well-being may be affected by ecological change (Chan et al. 2012a, b). In the present study, we focus specifically on the socio-cultural valuation of ecosystem services.

Socio-cultural valuation approaches specifically explore human attitudes and perceptions regarding ecosystem services; thus, they may be a particularly relevant tool for valuating ecosystem services in landscapes that have been shaped by long-term human impacts, namely, in so-called “cultural landscapes” (Martín-López et al. 2012). Mediterranean cultural landscapes have developed as a result of the close coevolution of human societies and biophysical systems (Blondel 2006). In such landscapes, high degrees of biodiversity (Myers et al. 2000) and resilience (Cabell and Oelofse 2012) are particularly linked to cultural values and to social behaviours and perceptions. Within cultural landscapes, agroecosystems have been recognised as important providers of ecosystem services (Swinton et al. 2007; Zhang et al. 2007; Power 2010; Harrison et al. 2010; Lamarque et al. 2011a; Nieto-Romero et al. in press). Increasing calls for sustainable agriculture are also drawing attention to the social-ecological nature of agroecosystems and to the idea that agriculture produces landscapes that are at once social, cultural, and ecological (Wittman 2009; Bacon et al. 2012). Agroecosystems supply provisioning services, such as food and fibre; regulating services, such as soil fertility and pollination; and cultural services, such as ecotourism, local ecological knowledge and cultural identity. Recently, Seppelt et al. (2011), Vihervaara et al. (2010) and Nieto-Romero et al. (in press) have called for more research specifically focused on ecosystem services provided by agroecosystems. Robertson and Swinton (2005), among others, have proposed that a stronger understanding of the services provided by agroecosystems is needed if depletion trends are to be reversed. Specifically, the ecosystem services framework could help minorities to effectively communicate the multidimensional value of their practices to society (Chan et al. 2012b), which could be particularly valuable for peasants and pastoralists.

Particularly since the 1960s, Mediterranean agroecosystems have become increasingly vulnerable to the pressures of global drivers of change (e.g., Gómez-Baggethun et al. 2010; EME 2011) that have (a) favoured the maximisation of outputs from single ecosystem services (mainly food production) over the traditional multifunctional mosaic in fertile areas (Gordon et al. 2010) and (b) triggered rural abandonment of less productive and remote areas (Caraveli 2000; Bugalho et al. 2011; García-Llorente et al. 2012). Pastoral practices in the Mediterranean are renowned for significantly contributing to biodiversity, especially in mountain ecosystems and rural areas (Hatfield et al. 2006). Heikkinen et al. (2012) have recently discussed whether herding should be viewed as a user and/or a producer of ecosystem services. Some of the ecosystem services for which clear links to pastoralism and transhumance in particular have been demonstrated include (a) provisioning, such as meat and dairies (Harrison et al. 2010; Lamarque et al. 2011b), (b) regulating, such as seed dispersal (Manzano and Malo 2006) and tree regeneration (Carmona et al. 2013) and (c) cultural services, such as traditional ecological knowledge (Oteros-Rozas et al. 2013a), cultural identity (López-Santiago et al. in press) and recreational values (Pereira et al. 2005). Current livestock farming systems in mountains and other less-favoured areas are considerably diverse (Ruben and Pender 2004) and, as farming systems in general, are constantly changing in response to biophysical and socio-economic drivers (Mottet et al. 2006); as such, their study is of particular interest in the context of the on-going environmental change. Pastoralism in particular is a vulnerable practice that is globally declining (Dong et al. 2011) but which may, however, be crucial for food security under global climate change (Krätli et al. 2012).

Transhumance is a customary practice consisting of the regular, seasonal migration of livestock between summer pastures (usually highlands or more extreme latitudes) and winter pastures (lowlands or latitudes closer to the equator) (Ruiz and Ruiz 1986). As with other adaptive strategies based on mobility (Agrawal 2008), transhumance is important as a useful strategy for dealing with the growing challenges posed by accelerated environmental change (Oteros-Rozas et al. 2013a). Consequently, however, of the progressive integration of animal production into the global market economy, as well as of the sedentarisation policies and institutional constraints that disfavour nomadic lifestyles, mobile pastoralism is globally declining (Davies and Hatfield 2007; Galvin 2009). The decline of transhumant practices is contributing to the current trend towards the decreased capacity of Mediterranean agroecosystems to provide a diverse flow of ecosystem services (Gordon et al. 2010) and to their lowered social-ecological resilience to global change (Oteros-Rozas et al. 2012a).

Here, we conceptualise the transhumance cultural landscape as a social-ecological network (Janssen et al. 2006), that is, as a “network of biophysical and social flows generated and maintained by the movement of herders and livestock” (Oteros-Rozas et al. 2012b). Our overall aim is to explore the socio-cultural perceptions of ecosystem services provided by such a transhumance social-ecological network. Our specific objectives are (1) to analyse perceptions of the “social” (for the well-being of society) and “personal” (for the well-being of the respondent) importance of ecosystem services and compare them; (2) to assess perceptions of ecosystem services’ trends and their importance for social well-being; (3) to explore the perceived spatial and temporal locations of the delivery of ecosystem services; (4) to relate the socio-demographic characteristics of respondents to their perceptions of important ecosystem services and (5) to explore the perceived role of transhumance in the delivery of ecosystem services. Figure 1 shows the relationships established among these objectives. Finally, we discuss the political and practical implications for safeguarding ecosystem services provided by transhumant pastoralism.
Fig. 1

Roadmap of the paper indicating the links between the specific objectives, the data analyses and the corresponding Results and Discussion sections


Study area: the Conquense Drove Road social-ecological network

Transhumance has persisted in Spain from ancient times to the present, although with a different structure and at a much smaller scale than in the past (Bunce et al. 2006; Manzano and Malo 2006; Fernández-Giménez and Fillat 2012). The most recent estimates tally approximately 250,000 transhumant sheep, of which 90 % are moved by truck and 10 % by foot (MARM 2011). Recent increases in oil and fodder prices appear to be motivating some shepherds to resume transhumance on foot (Oteros-Rozas et al. 2012a; Fernández-Giménez and Fillat 2012). This tentative revitalisation is made more feasible by an existing public network of drove roads that connect winter and summer pasturelands—covering 125,000 km in length and 422,000 ha in overall area and comprising 0.83 % of the entire country (Cazorla et al. 2008)—which has been granted legal protection (Drove Roads Act, Ley 3/1995). The network is formed by nine main Royal Drove Roads (cañadas reales, 75 m wide) and hundreds of smaller droves (cordeles, cordones and veredas).

Our study area covers a total of 15,297 km2 in 77 municipalities and is divided into three areas related to transhumance through the Conquense Drove Road (CDR): a summering area, a wintering area and the drove road itself (Fig. 2). The CDR is the most extensive drove road in Spain (approximately 410 km long) that is still in use by herders to migrate cattle and sheep on foot.
Fig. 2

Map of the study area. Red dots indicate sampling points

The CDR’s summering area is located in the eastern forests of the Montes Universales (Teruel, Guadalajara, and Cuenca provinces) and is characterised by semi-deciduous and coniferous forests (largely transformed by humans into pine plantations) mixed with agricultural patches of fodder crops. From July to October, sheep and cattle herds graze in these highland pastures, and in early November, when primary productivity drastically decreases, shepherds and herds start the 25- to 30-day journey along the drove road that crosses the central Iberian plateau, predominantly a cultivated landscape (mostly vineyards and fields containing sunflowers, cereals and olive orchards). The wintering area is located in southeastern Sierra Morena and in the southern fields of Castilla-La Mancha and north of Andalusia (Ciudad Real and Jaén provinces), characterised by a typical Mediterranean dehesa landscape (agrosilvopastoral ecosystems, consisting of pasturelands with scattered trees, primarily holm oaks). The altitude of the study area ranges from 270 m (wintering area) to 1,930 m (summering area).

Every year, between 13 and 17 transhumant shepherds with nearly 9,000 ovine heads and 1,200 cows walk the drove road (Oteros-Rozas et al. 2012a); however, these constitute only 17 % of transhumants in the study area, as most livestock (approximately 57,000 heads) are transported between the summering and the wintering areas by truck.

Data collection

Data were collected in three consecutive steps: (1) review of background information, (2) semi-structured interviews and (3) systematic data collection (survey). Steps (1) and (2) provided the groundwork necessary to document the ecosystem services that would later be valued through the questionnaire (3). In the first step (1), a preliminary identification and characterisation of ecosystem services was performed by reviewing previous work on ecosystems and ecosystem services related to pastoralism and livestock movements in general and to transhumance in particular (Oteros-Rozas et al. 2012b). The second phase (2) consisted of semi-structured interviews (N = 58) with key informants, selected via a snowball sampling technique (Bernard 2005). Informants included shepherds (33 %), farmers (21 %), hunters (19 %), decision makers (23 %), employees from the tertiary sector (8 %) and university researchers (6 %). Interviewees were asked about the “direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems in the study area to the well-being of people” to complete the identification of ecosystem services performed in the first step (1). According to the results of steps (1) and (2), a total of 34 ecosystem services were identified: 10 provisioning, 12 regulating, and 12 cultural (“Appendix 1”). Drawing on the information gathered in the first two steps (i.e., the identification of ecosystem services provided by the ecosystems of the study area), a questionnaire was then designed, pre-tested (N = 20) and applied through face-to-face conversations with a sample of respondents (N = 416) representative of both the local population and visitors of the study area in 39 sampling points (Fig. 2). The sample population was restricted to individuals older than 18 years of age. All incomplete questionnaires were excluded from the analysis (final N = 381, Table 1). Field work was conducted from May 2009 to March 2010 by E.O.R, J.A.G. and B.M.L., together with a team of six trained field assistants with a background in environmental sciences.
Table 1

Characteristics of the sample




Sampling area







 Drove road




 Local summering



 Local drove road



 Local wintering







 From the study area



 From somewhere else



Protected areas (PA)







Reading environmental publications













Home garden/organic food























































Educational level




 Primary school



 Secondary school






Professional background


 Primary sector



 Secondary sector



 Tertiary sector












Monthly net income (Euros)
















 Not declared



The questionnaire included items on the socio-cultural valuation of ecosystem services (general as well as those specifically related to transhumance), on environmental awareness and behaviour (e.g., readers of environmental publications, members of environmental associations, visitors of protected areas) and on socio-demographic characteristics (e.g., age, gender, income) of the respondents (objective 4). For the valuation of ecosystem services, respondents were (1) given a brief explanation regarding the study area (with the assistance of a map). Next, they (2) received a brief explanation of the ecosystem services concept, i.e., “the benefits that ecosystems provide for human well-being.” Other studies have shown that participants may not be familiar with the term “ecosystem services” (Plieninger et al. 2013); however, by providing explanations, we were able to avoid this issue. Afterwards, the participants were asked to what extent they considered the ecosystems of the study area to provide services to society (nothing, little, some or much), and they were asked to list the ecosystem services they perceived. The interviewer then presented three visual panels (“Appendix 2”) listing, describing and presenting examples and pictures of the 34 ecosystem services (provisioning, regulating and cultural) identified by the research team. We then asked respondents to select, from the 34 ecosystem services listed in the panels (“Appendix 2”), the three ecosystem services they considered to be the most important for social well-being and to rank them in terms of their importance (objectives 1, 4 and 5). Subsequently, we enquired where (wintering, summering and/or drove road) respondents perceived those ecosystem services to be, as well as when (summer, autumn, winter and/or spring) they were primarily delivered (objective 3). Afterwards, we asked which trend (increasing, decreasing or stable) the chosen ecosystem services appeared to be following (objective 2). Respondents then scored each of the three selected ecosystem services according to their importance for their own personal well-being (objective 1). Finally, they selected a maximum of three ecosystem services that would be lost or degraded if transhumance on foot (as opposed to by truck) disappeared (objective 5). Two models of the questionnaires and panels (“Appendix 2”), each having different orders of the ecosystem service listings, were used to avoid position bias (Bateman et al. 2002).

Data analysis

In relation to objective (1), the importance for social well-being was expressed as a mean, calculated according to the position in the ranking (1st = 3; 2nd = 2 and 3rd = 1), and the importance for personal well-being was calculated as the mean score (no importance = 1; little importance = 2; some importance = 3; very important = 4) that interviewees assigned to the selected ecosystem services for the satisfaction of their personal well-being. A Spearman correlation test was used to explore associations between personal and social well-being.

To address objective (2), we depicted histograms of frequencies for the perception of the trends followed by ecosystem services and developed an index reflecting the overall perceived trend as:
$${\text{overall perceived trend}} = \left[ {\frac{I - D}{I + D + M}} \right]$$
where I = frequency of “increases”; D = frequency of “decreases”; M = frequency of “is stable”.

To explore the perception of the temporal and spatial location of ecosystem services delivery (objective 3), we performed Chi square tests to analyse the associations between the delivery of ecosystem services and season (i.e., winter, spring, summer or autumn) or location (i.e., wintering area, drove road or summering area). The significant associations for each season/location were then graphically represented.

Regarding objective (4), we performed a redundancy analysis (RDA) to identify socio-demographic factors underlying the importance of particular ecosystem services for social well-being (Martín-López et al. 2012). A Monte Carlo permutation test (500 permutations) was performed to determine the significance of independent variables in influencing perception of the importance of ecosystem services for social well-being. The inertia of the factors was used to identify the most important variables, according to socio-cultural perceptions.

To accomplish objective (5), namely, to explore perceptions of the relationship between transhumance and the delivery of ecosystem services considered to be important for social well-being, we employed a scatter plot and a Spearman correlation test to compare the portion of subjects that believed a particular ecosystem service would be lost or degraded if transhumance disappeared with the portion of subjects agreeing that a particular ecosystem service is important for social well-being.


Perception of the social and personal importance of ecosystem services

Among the provisioning services, livestock, food from agriculture and the genetic pool were considered to be the most important for social well-being and were also scored among the most important for personal well-being, together with feed for animals and food from hunting. The ecosystem services considered to be most important for social well-being were all regulating: air purification, followed by habitat for species and fire prevention (Fig. 3, “Appendix 3”). In addition, tree regeneration, microclimate regulation and hydrological regulation were also frequently selected as important for social well-being. All regulating services, with the exception of biological control and ditch maintenance,1 were scored as considerably important (>3) for personal well-being. The cultural services perceived as most important for social well-being were cultural identity and spiritual value. Other services considered to be important for personal well-being included tranquillity/relaxation, scientific knowledge, environmental education, bullfighting events, aesthetic value and local ecological knowledge. A significant positive correlation was found between the average importance score for social well-being and the average importance score for personal well-being (ρ = 0.582; p value <0.001).
Fig. 3

Perceived trends in ecosystem services and their importance for social and personal well-being. For “Trend frequencies”: “Increased” represents the percentage of respondents selecting an ecosystem service that they considered to be increasing; “Decreased” represents the percentage of respondents that consider an ecosystem service to be decreasing; and “Stable” represents the percentage of respondents who believed that an ecosystem service is not changing. For more details regarding social well-being and personal well-being, see the “Methods” section and “Appendix 3

Perception of ecosystem services’ trends and their importance for social well-being

The index of overall perceived trends showed that the delivery of most ecosystem services was perceived as either decreasing or stable, with the exception of three cultural services (Fig. 3): nature recreation activities, scientific knowledge, and rural tourism. In contrast, livestock, fire prevention and air purification were the most frequently perceived as decreasing. Fire prevention, however, was also perceived as increasing by 49 % of the population sampled, thus indicating some dissent within the population. Considering the index of overall perceived trends and the averages of importance for social and for personal well-being, the ecosystem services showing the strongest decreasing trends but the highest importance for human well-being at different scales were air purification and hydrological regulation. In contrast, two out of the three increasing ecosystem services (i.e., nature recreation activities and rural tourism) were perceived as being among the least important for both social and personal well-being.

Perception of spatial and temporal locations of ecosystem services

Participants in the study perceived a differentiated delivery of ecosystem services at each time of year (Fig. 4a) and in the three different areas involved (Fig. 4b). Different cultural services were related to each of the four seasons: recreational hunting in autumn and winter; rural tourism in summer; and nature recreation and aesthetic value in spring. Provisioning services, in contrast, were perceived to be provided primarily in autumn (gathering) and winter (fibres). Some regulating services were particularly associated with spring (connectivity and seed dispersal, tree regeneration and pollination), and fire prevention was perceived to be preferably delivered in summer.
Fig. 4

a Significant associations between seasons of the year and ecosystem services delivery perceived by respondents and determined by χ2 tests (p value <0.05). b Significant associations between spatial location and ecosystem services delivery perceived by respondents and determined by χ2 tests (p value <0.05)

Only four ecosystem services were considered to be significantly more highly associated with a particular area (Fig. 4b). Fire prevention was clearly perceived to be provided in the summering area. The drove road was particularly related to food from agriculture, maintenance of soil fertility and as the way of cultural exchange.

Relating socio-demographic characteristics of respondents to their perceptions of important ecosystem services

The RDA indicates a statistically significant relationship between the ecosystem services perceived as being important for social well-being and the socio-demographic characteristics of respondents (p value <0.0001, from 500 permutations). The three principal axes of the RDA accounted for 71 % of the total variance (Table 2). The first axis was positively related to local ecological knowledge, fire prevention, soil erosion control and feed for animals, which were primarily selected by elders, readers of environmental literature, locals from the summering areas and/or farmers. The negative values on this axis were related to air purification, ditch maintenance and food from agriculture, preferentially selected by locals from the drove road area (Fig. 5).
Table 2

Scores for the redundancy analysis variables and statistics


Axis 1

Axis 2

Axis 3

Dependent variables (ecosystem services)


 Genetic pool












 Feed for animals




 Food from hunting




 Food from agriculture




 Products from apiculture








 Wood and timber









 Tree regeneration




 Biological control




 Air purification




 Habitat for species




 Fire prevention (natural hazard)




 Soil erosion control




 Connectivity and seed dispersal




 Maintenance of soil fertility








 Microclimate regulation




 Hydrological regulation




 Ditch maintenance









 Nature recreation activities




 Cultural identity




 Recreational hunting




 Scientific knowledge




 Environmental education




 Bullfighting events




 Aesthetic value




 Way of cultural exchange




 Spiritual value




 Local ecological knowledge




 Rural tourism




Explanatory variables

 Age (ln)




 Educational level








 Environmental readers




 Local: drove-road




 Local: summering




 Local: wintering




























 % Variance explained




 Cumulative % of variance explained




 Total inertia




Bold values represent those ecosystem services (dependent variables) with a squared cosine>0.3 and those explanatory variables with scores>0.1
Fig. 5

Scatter plot showing the first two axes of the Redundancy Analysis (RDA). The tags shown correspond to active variables (ecosystem services) with a squared cosine >0.3 in either axis 1 or axis 2 of the RDA and to explanatory variables (socio-demographic, in italics)

In the positive extreme of the second axis, we found nature recreation activities, maintenance of soil fertility, pollination and gathering, mainly selected by older interviewees living in the wintering area. On the negative side of axis 2, people with higher educational levels, higher income levels, and/or not living in the study area tended to perceive species’ habitat and the genetic pool as important (Fig. 5).

Finally, along the third axis, bullfighting events, connectivity and seed dispersal, manure and livestock were grouped on the positive side and were identified by locals from the summering area, men and/or farmers. Meanwhile, on the negative side of this axis were tree regeneration and soil erosion control, usually selected by interviewees employed in research or education, women and/or people with higher educational and/or income levels.

Perception of the role of transhumance for ecosystem services delivery

A positive correlation (ρ = 0.616; p value <0.001) was found between the percentage of the sample that believe an ecosystem service would be lost/degraded if transhumance disappeared and the percentage of people considering a particular ecosystem service to be important for social well-being. Livestock and fire prevention were perceived as highly important for social well-being and related to transhumance (Fig. 6). The perception of the delivery of certain regulating services (tree regeneration, maintenance of soil fertility and connectivity and seed dispersal) and cultural services (local ecological knowledge, way of cultural exchange and cultural identity) were noted by 7–13 % of the sample as being closely related to the existence of transhumance and were largely thought to be decreasing but important for social well-being. Finally, 60 % of the ecosystem services perceived as being important for social well-being were considered to be related to the maintenance of transhumance.
Fig. 6

Scatter plot of the percentage of respondents believing that ecosystem services would be degraded or lost if transhumance disappeared (x axis) and the percentage of respondents considering particular ecosystem services important for social well-being (y axis). Symbol indicates type of ecosystem service, and tag colour corresponds to the overall perceived trend (see Fig. 1)


Socio-cultural valuation has proved to be a useful approach that enables the identification of a range of ecosystem services. Although several ecosystem disservices can also be identified in relation to the study area (e.g., dirtiness in some areas of the drove road that, as public spaces, might be misused as dumpers), we did not explore them in the present study. Furthermore, trade-offs among ecosystem services were not analysed in this case, but have already been explored through a participatory scenario planning exercise (Oteros-Rozas et al. 2013b). In the following four sections, the five objectives are addressed in accordance to the corresponding results presented (Fig. 1): in the first sub-section (“Social perception of ecosystem services: self-oriented versus other-oriented”), the assessment of ecosystem services’ importance for social and personal well-being (objective 1) is discussed; objectives 2 and 3, regarding perceptions of trends and spatial and temporal locations in the delivery of ecosystem services, are addressed in the second sub-section (“Identifying key ecosystem services”); the identification of links between socio-demographic factors and ecosystem services perception (objective 4) is addressed in the sub-section titled “Who values what?”; finally, the perception of the role of transhumance for ecosystem services delivery is discussed under the sub-section titled “So what if transhumance disappears?”.

Social perception of ecosystem services: self-oriented versus other-oriented

Social scientists have documented that, when an individual expresses values based on the benefits (consequences) that something offers him or her, this response also reflects an implicit willingness to contribute to a moral cause (Kahneman and Knetsch 1992) and can thus be regarded as a measure of an index of support for a morally right or just society but not as an individual preference (Sagoff 1998). Accordingly, respondents were primarily asked to select ecosystem services according to their importance for social well-being and, afterwards, score them according to their personal importance. The combination of the two approaches allowed us to distinguish between self-oriented and other-oriented preferences (Chan et al. 2012a). The significance of the scale of perceptions in socio-cultural ecosystem services assessment is important because each perspective can provide different types of information. While perception of the importance of regulating services was similar for both social and personal well-being, these patterns differed regarding cultural and provisioning services (“Appendix 3”). When asked about social well-being, a subjective perception of general needs and preferences was apparent: in this case, respondents tended to give higher values to provisioning services. When questioned about personal well-being, subjective values became even more clear, and higher values corresponded to cultural services. Based on our results, we suggest that both personal and social well-being scales should be explored in future socio-cultural valuations.

Identifying key ecosystem services

Only three ecosystem services were perceived as increasing: nature recreation activities, rural tourism and environmental education (Fig. 3). All of these are ecosystem services demanded mainly by urban users (EME 2011; Martín-López et al. 2012), and two are related to recreation, which is consistent with the results of previous studies in Europe (e.g., Harrison et al. 2010). Our findings are not surprising, considering that the rural development policies within existing European and Spanish policies have arguably widened the gap between intensively productive areas and abandoned or extensively managed areas. The tertiary sector of the economy, particularly tourism and recreation, has been promoted as a source of income diversification in disadvantaged areas. These strategies have, on the one hand, provided some rural communities with economic alternatives in the face of lowered market competitiveness of European agrarian products, therefore downshifting or reversing abandonment. On the other hand, the substitution of primary and secondary sector activities with tertiary sector activities (mainly tourism) has triggered abandonment of most low-impact extensive and traditional farming practices and their related cultural landscapes (Caraveli 2000).

Ecosystem services that are considered to be important for social well-being and that are thought to be in decline should be regarded as key ecosystem services and should, therefore, receive priority attention in decision-making processes. In the study area, regulating services (air purification and hydrological regulation in particular) and food provision (genetic pool—e.g., landraces and livestock breeds—as well as food from agriculture and from livestock) displayed an overall decreasing trend, despite being very important for both social and personal well-being.

Moreover, we found that the perceived delivery of key ecosystem services varied according to spatial and temporal locations. On the one hand, we found that all ecosystem services related to the drove road are decreasing (Fig. 4b), specifically food from agriculture and maintenance of soil fertility, which are considered to be important for personal well-being. These ecosystem services are likely associated with the drove road because the road is frequently embedded in a matrix of croplands. On the other hand, our results indicate that some of the ecosystem services that are delivered primarily during one season, such as fire prevention or tree regeneration, are also important for personal well-being (Fig. 4a). In this context, a calendar of ecosystem services functions as an interesting tool to (a) depict possible complementary activities (e.g., gathering and recreational hunting in the autumn and the winter, and recreation activities in the summer) and (b) identify different possible interpretations of ecosystem functions or survey questions (e.g., fire prevention is perceived as being provided mostly in the summer, when fire frequency is highest, while the accumulation of inflammable biomass occurs primarily during the spring).

The case of fire prevention merits specific attention. Fire hazards constitute a common concern of the Spanish population, and fire prevention was identified as a key ecosystem service in the study area. Fire occurrence has been recognised as negatively associated with livestock grazing (Zumbrunnen et al. 2012). The experience of natural hazards influences human perception of social-ecological dynamics and, therefore, determines the socio-cultural value of ecosystem services. Preferences, such as those for biophysical processes, are context-specific (Johnson et al. 2012). This survey was conducted in 2010, but what might the results have been if we had repeated the survey in the summer of 2012? In that year, fire hazards were particularly frequent and severe: the number of fire events larger than 500 hectares increased by 154 %, and the area affected increased by 250 %, relative to the average values of the previous 5 years (MAGRAMA 2012). Socio-cultural valuation is therefore particularly advisable in the case of natural hazard prevention, because it can be used as (a) an early warning of ecosystem services deterioration and (b) a proxy for risk perception of the increasing probability of natural hazards. Here, the dissensus observed in the perceived trend of fire prevention could be attributed to a misunderstanding of this ecosystem service; although we tried to clarify that we were referring to the benefits provided by ecosystems—that is, “natural prevention by herbivorous consumption of biomass”—some interviewees may very well have been thinking in the context of “human prevention” (with public investment in mechanical means). This type of misinterpretation can be considered a caveat; hence, we should use caution when interpreting the results regarding this particular service. The proposed index of an overall perceived trend is particularly interesting when a strong consensus regarding the perceived trend exists, thereby permitting the synthesis of information. Such an index is not as helpful, however, (1) when there is a clear dissensus among respondents (e.g., fire prevention) or (2) when attempting to measure the degree of perception (e.g., fire prevention and aesthetic value appear to be equally ‘stable’ even though there is a large difference in their perceived trends). A possible improvement to this index might involve efforts to overcome such caveats.

Who values what?

Individuals perceive and therefore value ecosystem services differently according to their socio-cultural backgrounds (e.g., Castro et al. 2011; Lamarque et al. 2011a; Martín-López et al. 2012; van Berkel and Verburg 2014; Plieninger et al. 2013). Analyses such as the RDA (Fig. 5), which explore the association between ecosystem services and socio-cultural factors, can be used to identify ecosystem service bundles based on social perceptions (Martín-López et al. 2012). In the case presented here, most of the ecosystem services that were perceived differently among respondents were regulating and provisioning. Particularly, non-locals and locals from the three different areas valued different ecosystem services, likely because certain types of values cannot be adequately appreciated without first being experienced (Chan et al. 2012a). Locals from the drove road perceived food from agriculture to be important for social well-being, while locals from the summering area expressed a greater appreciation for food from livestock, likely reflecting the relative importance of these farming practices in each of the local economies. Awareness and familiarity with local surroundings have been previously identified as important determinants of landscape perception (Soini et al. 2012).

Age was also a significant factor influencing perception of the relative importance of ecosystem services for social well-being. While older people typically perceived local ecological knowledge, nature recreation activities, soil fertility and erosion control, fire prevention, pollination and gathering as important, younger people more often perceived food from agriculture, air purification, habitat for species and the genetic pool as important services. Is this observation a sign of a change in preferences consonant with life experience? Is there an intergenerational change in values? Or does it signal, perhaps, a change in the ecosystem services delivered? It seems likely that a confluence of these three factors is occurring. Needs change over the course of a lifetime, usually in relation to one’s main occupation. While the elders enjoy recreation and value their local knowledge, the young may have received more formal environmental education and therefore value regulating services; additionally, as active workers, the young are likely to value food production activities and thus food provision services. Further research should be conducted in this regard.

A gender difference also emerged in the valuation of ecosystem services: while men tended to consider the most important ecosystem services to be those related to raising livestock (i.e., livestock, manure, connectivity and seed dispersal and bullfighting events), women typically perceived regulating services (i.e., tree regeneration and soil erosion control) as more valuable. Gender differences in the valuation of ecosystem services have previously been identified (Martín-López et al. 2012) and explained, in accordance with gender-differentiated environmental awareness (Dietz et al. 2002) and the gender division of work (Rocheleau et al. 1996; Reyes-García et al. 2010).

So what if transhumance disappears?

The existence of transhumance is perceived to be an influencing element in the delivery of ecosystem services, some of which (more than half), particularly fire prevention and livestock, are valued as highly important for human well-being. Policy action toward the conservation of transhumance on foot can positively influence the delivery of ecosystem services in the study area, particularly tree regeneration, maintenance of soil fertility, connectivity, seed dispersal, local ecological knowledge, way of cultural exchange and cultural identity, as well as the resilience of the social-ecological network (Oteros-Rozas et al. 2012a). Transhumance, as a mobility strategy, has been recognised as an important adaptive strategy in the face of global change (Berkes and Jolly 2001). We also argue that it can be considered to be an “intermediate disturbance,” capable of managing ecosystems for the delivery of a diverse flow of ecosystem services. Between the extremes of management for the satisfaction of urban demands and worldviews (looking for either the production of food, as in intensive croplands, or the optimisation of regulating and cultural services, as in protected areas) and land abandonment, peasant multifunctional management models associated with low-impact farming practices should attract greater attention for their role in preserving cultural landscapes responsible for the delivery of a wide range of ecosystem services (Harrop 2007; García-Llorente et al. 2012). We believe the maintenance of transhumance could be particularly important in the Mediterranean basin, when taking into account the future scenarios of regional climate and land-use change and the forecasted alterations in ecosystem services supply (Schröter et al. 2005). When exploring the socio-cultural perception of the delivery of ecosystem services under different participatory future scenarios at a regional scale in the summering area, two of the four scenarios explored included the reduction or disappearance of livestock and, consequently, a reduction in the quality or quantity of most ecosystem services delivery (Oteros-Rozas et al. 2013b). The promotion of multifunctional landscapes through a form of transhumance preservation that seeks to guarantee delivery of a diverse flow of ecosystem services should be considered for the design of future agro-environmental measures in the face of the current reform of the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union for the period of 2014–2020.


The present study has shown the potential of socio-cultural valuation for the (a) identification of a diverse flow of ecosystem services, without risk of double counting (e.g., food is usually considered as one ecosystem service to avoid double counting, hence hiding the heterogeneity of food, sources, including agriculture, livestock, honey, wild edible plants gathering, hunting, etc.); (b) visibility of socio-cultural preferences at different perception scales (self-oriented or for personal well-being versus other-oriented or for social well-being); (c) identification of different needs within different times (i.e., seasons of the year) and spaces (i.e., areas); (d) elucidation of perceived trends as an early warning of ecosystem service deterioration (e.g., fire prevention); (e) possibility of revealing perceived bundles of ecosystem services that can inform management decisions (e.g., links between livestock, connectivity and seed dispersal); (f) exploration of the link between ecosystem services and traditional management practices (i.e., transhumance); and (g) achievement of all of these objectives through relatively inexpensive research, yet using primary data.

Therefore, we propose that the socio-cultural approach to valuing ecosystem services, as related in the foregoing study to a living transhumant social-ecological network, can demonstrate how traditional low-intensity agrarian landscapes are responsible for the delivery of a diverse flow of ecosystem services. These outcomes, we believe, should be adequate to attract policy interest in and institutional support for their preservation.


Particularly in the summering area, the ditches (where herbaceous vegetation tends to proliferate due to higher humidity) are grazed by sheep, hence avoiding accumulation of potentially inflammable biomass and facilitating the drainage of rain so that roads are not flooded. The cleaning of biomass from the ditches is usually performed mechanically, but sheep grazing also delivers this service.



This research has been financed by the Spanish Ministry for the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs (Project 079/RN08/02.1) and the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Project CGL2011-30266). E.O.R. was partially funded by a grant by the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and hosted by the Ecosystem Services Research Group at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (Germany) during manuscript elaboration. T.P.’s contribution was funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (FKZ 01UU 0904A). We acknowledge all interviewees and respondents for kindly sharing their knowledge and time. We thank: Marina García-Llorente and Irene Iniesta-Arandia for comments on the survey design; Jessica Cobo, Isabel Díaz-Reviriego, Lucía Galeán, Erik Gómez- Baggethun, Esther González-Martín, Violeta Hevia, Irene Iniesta-Arandia and Ricardo Ontillera-Sánchez for field assistance; Sergio Puente for assistance with the survey coding; Ignacio Palomo for map design. We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their comments on a previous version.

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013