Blind spots in ecosystem services research and challenges for implementation

  • Sven LautenbachEmail author
  • Anne-Christine Mupepele
  • Carsten F. Dormann
  • Heera Lee
  • Stefan Schmidt
  • Samantha S. K. Scholte
  • Ralf Seppelt
  • Astrid J. A. van Teeffelen
  • Willem Verhagen
  • Martin Volk


Ecosystem service research is high on the policy agenda. Strategies to synthesize individual success stories and derive generalized results to provide guidance for policymakers and stakeholder is central to many science-policy initiatives, such as Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. However, generalization requires the documentation of basic information on methods and results of case studies, which might not be present throughout all case studies. We used a quantitative review based on a random sample of studies published in the ISI Web of Knowledge between 1996 and 2016 to identify blind spots in ecosystem service research that might hinder the generalization. We structured our analysis along critical questions about five facets that characterize the holistic ideal of ecosystem services research: (i) social-ecological validity of ecosystem data and models, (ii) consideration of trade-offs between ecosystem services, (iii) recognition of off-site effects, (iv) comprehensive and shrewd involv ement of stakeholders, and (v) relevance and usability of study results for the operationalization of the ecosystem service concept in practice. Results show that these facets were not addressed by the majority of case studies including more recent studies. Clusters of ecosystem services studied together were prone to different blind spots. To effectively operationalize the concept of ecosystem services, the blind spots need to be addressed by upcoming studies. A list of critical questions is provided to raise the awareness of the blind spots both for synthesis of existing knowledge and for future research agendas.


Operationalization Stakeholder involvement Good modeling practice Quantitative review Off-site effects Trade-offs 



We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers who helped to improve the manuscript.

Funding information

The work has been funded by the EU-FP7 project OPERAs under grant agreement number FP7-ENV-2012-308393.

Supplementary material

10113_2018_1457_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (337 kb)
ESM 1 Temporal trends in the five critical facets of ecosystem service research (PDF 337 kb)
10113_2018_1457_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (50.8 mb)
ESM 2 Spatial pattern of ecosystem service research facets (PDF 52010 kb)
10113_2018_1457_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (728 kb)
ESM 3 References of the papers in the sample (PDF 728 kb)
10113_2018_1457_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (636 kb)
ESM 4 The ecosystem service categories used in the manuscript. (PDF 635 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sven Lautenbach
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Anne-Christine Mupepele
    • 4
    • 5
  • Carsten F. Dormann
    • 4
  • Heera Lee
    • 2
    • 6
  • Stefan Schmidt
    • 3
  • Samantha S. K. Scholte
    • 7
  • Ralf Seppelt
    • 3
    • 8
    • 9
  • Astrid J. A. van Teeffelen
    • 7
  • Willem Verhagen
    • 7
  • Martin Volk
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute for Geography, GIScience Research GroupUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  2. 2.Agricultural Faculty, Institute for Geodesy and Geoinformation, Professorship for Land Use Modeling and Ecosystem ServicesUniversity of BonnBonnGermany
  3. 3.Department for Computational Landscape EcologyUFZ - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental ResearchLeipzigGermany
  4. 4.Biometry & Environmental System AnalysisUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  5. 5.Nature Conservation & Landscape EcologyUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  6. 6.Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Meteorology and Climate ResearchAtmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU)Garmisch-PartenkirchenGermany
  7. 7.Environmental Geography Group, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM-VU), Faculty of ScienceVrije Universiteit AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  8. 8.Institute of Geoscience & GeographyMartin Luther-University Halle-WittenbergHalle (Saale)Germany
  9. 9.iDiv, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity ResearchLeipzigGermany

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