, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 125–132

Looking to the Future of Ecosystem Services



Ecosystem services—the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems—are essential to human existence, but demands for services often surpass the capacity of ecosystems to provide them. Lack of ecological information often precludes informed decision making about ecosystem services. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was conceived in part to provide the necessary ecological information to decision makers. To this end, the MA set out to address the stated needs and concerns of decision makers and examine the ecological dynamics and uncertainties underlying these concerns. To improve our understanding of their information needs and concerns, we interviewed 59 decision makers from five continents. The respondents indicated that although most people generally agree about the ideal state of the planet—free of poverty and extreme inequality, replete with cultural and biological diversity—they often disagree about the best way to achieve these goals. Further, although nonspecialists are generally concerned about the environment and may have a good understanding of some of issues, they often have a more limited grasp of the ecological dynamics that drive the issues of concern. We identify some of the principal uncertainties about ecosystem dynamics and feedbacks that underlie the concerns of decision makers. Each of the papers in this special feature addresses these ecological feedbacks from the perspective of a specific discipline, suggesting ways in which knowledge of ecological dynamics can be incorporated into the MA’s assessment and scenario-building process.


ecosystem services scenarios Millennium Ecosystem Assessment ecological dynamics management dilemmas 


  1. Alcamo J. 2001. Scenarios as tools for international environmental assessments. Environmental issue report no. 24. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, European Environment AgencyGoogle Scholar
  2. Ayensu, E, Classen, DR, Collins, M, Dearing, A, Fresco, L, Gadgil, M, Gitay, H,  et al. 1999International ecosystem assessmentScience2866856CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Balee W. 1989. The culture of Amazon forests. In: Posey D, Balee W, editors. Resource management in Amazonia: indigenous and folk strategies. Advance in Economic BotanyGoogle Scholar
  4. Chichilnisky, G, Heal, G 1998Economic returns from the biosphereNature3962930CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Daily GC, editor. 1997. Nature’s services: societal dependence on natural ecosystems Island PressGoogle Scholar
  6. Davis G. 1998. Creating scenarios for your company’s future. Corporate environmental, health, and safety excellence: bringing sustainable development down to earth. New York Google Scholar
  7. Deutsch, L, Folke, C, Skanberg, K 2003The critical natural capital of ecosystem performance as insurance for human well-beingEcol Econ4420517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dudley N, Stolton S. 2003. Running pure: the importance of forest protected areas to drinking water. World Bank/WWF Alliance for Forest Conservation and Sustainable UseGoogle Scholar
  9. Erickson, CL 2000An artificial landscape-scale fishery in the Bolivian AmazonNature40819093CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. [EEA] European Environment Agency. 2001. Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896–2000. Environmental issue report no. 22. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European CommunitiesGoogle Scholar
  11. Ewel, JJ 1999Natural systems as models for the design of sustainable systems of land useAgrofor Syst45121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gallopín G, Hammond A, Raskin P, Swart R. 1997. Branch points: global scenarios and human choice. Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute. Available online at:
  13. Glaser, B, Haumaier, L, Guggenberger, G, Zech, W 2001The ’Terra Preta’ phenomenon: a model for sustainable agriculture in the humid tropicsNaturwissenschaften883741CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Hawken P, Lovins A, Lovins H. 2000. Natural capitalism: creating the next industrial revolution. Boston: Back Bay BooksGoogle Scholar
  15. Heal, G 2000Valuing ecosystem servicesEcosystems32430CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heckenberger, MJ, Kuikuro, A, Kuikuro, UT, Russell, JC, Schmidt, M, Fausto, C, Franchetto, B 2003Amazonia 1492: pristine forest or cultural parkland? Science301171014CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Holling, CS 1986

    The resilience of terrestrial ecosystems: local surprise and global change

    Clark, WCMunn, RE eds. Sustainable development of the biosphereCambridge University PressCambridge (UK)292317
    Google Scholar
  18. Holling, CS, Meffe, GK 1996Command and control and the pathology of natural resource managementConserv Biol1032837CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jackson, RB, Carpenter, SR, Dahm, CN, McKnight, DM, Naiman, RJ, Postel, SL, Running, SW 2001Water in a changing worldEcol Appl11102745Google Scholar
  20. Loreau, M, Naeem, S, Inchausti, P, Bengtsson, J, Grime, JP, Hector, A, Hooper, DU,  et al. 2001Ecology—biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: current knowledge and future challengesScience2948048CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Matthews, E, Payne, R, Rohweder, M, Murray, S 2000Pilot analysis of global ecosystems: foreset ecosystemsWorld Resources InstituteWashington (DC)90Google Scholar
  22. McCann, KS 2000The diversity–stability debateNature40522833CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. McDonough W, Braungart M. 2002. cradle to cradle: remaking the way we make things. North Point PressGoogle Scholar
  24. [MA] Millennium Ecosystem Assessment2003People and ecosystems: a framework for assessmentIsland PressWashington (DC)Google Scholar
  25. Nakićenović N, Alcamo J, Davis G, de Vries B, Fenhann J, Gaffin S, Gregory K, and others. 2000. Special Report on Emissions Scenarios: a special report of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press. Available online at:
  26. Peterson, G, Allen, CR, Holling, CS 1998Ecological resilience, biodiversity, and scaleecosystems1618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Peterson, G, Cumming, G, Carpenter, SR 2003Scenario planning: a tool for conservation in an uncertain worldConserv Biol17110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pinstrup-Andersen, P, Pandya-Lorch, P, Rosegrant, MW 1997The world food situation: recent developments, emerging issues, and long term prospectsInternational Food Policy Research InstituteWashington (DC)Google Scholar
  29. Revenga, C, Brunner, J, Henninger, N, Kassem, K, Payne, R 2000Pilot analysis of global ecosystems: freshwater ecosystemsWorld Resources InstituteWashington (DC)83Google Scholar
  30. Sagoff, M 2002On the value of natural ecosystems: the Catskills parablePolitics Life Sci211621Google Scholar
  31. Schiklomanov IA. 1997. Comprehensive assessment of the freshwater resources of the world: assessment of water resources and water availability in the world. Stockholm: World Meteorological Organization and Stockholm Environment InstituteGoogle Scholar
  32. [UNEP] United Nations Environment Programme. 2002. Global Environmental Outlook 3. London: Earthscan. Available online at:
  33. Heijden, K 1996Scenarios: the art of strategic conversationWileyNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  34. Vitousek, PM, Monney, HA, Lubchenco, J, Melilo, J 1997Human domination of earth’s ecosystemsScience2774949CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Watson RT, and others. 1998. Protecting our planet—securing our future. Washington (DC): United Nations Environment Programme, US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, World BankGoogle Scholar
  36. [WBCSD] World Business Council for Sustainable Development 1997Exploring sustainable development. Summary brochureWBCSDGenevaAvailable online at: http://www. Scholar
  37. White, RP, Murray, S, Rohweder, M 2000Pilot analysis of global ecosystems: grassland ecosystemsWorld Resources InstituteWashington (DC)89Google Scholar
  38. Wood, SK, Sebastian, K, Scherr, SJ 2000AgroecosystemsInternational Food Policy Research Institute and World Resources InstituteWashington (DC)110Google Scholar
  39. World Commission on Dams. 2000Dams and development: a new framework for decision-makingEarthscanLondonGoogle Scholar
  40. [WWV] World Water Vision Commission Report. 2000. A water secure world. Vision for water, life and the environment. London: Earthscan. Available online at:

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. M. Bennett
    • 1
  • G. D. Peterson
    • 2
  • E. A. Levitt
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for LimnologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Geography and McGill School of the EnvironmentMcGill UniversityMontréalCanada

Personalised recommendations