Landscape Ecology

, Volume 29, Issue 8, pp 1447–1460 | Cite as

Is ecosystem service research used by decision-makers? A case study of the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia

  • Darla Hatton MacDonaldEmail author
  • Rosalind H. Bark
  • Anthea Coggan
Research Article


This paper investigates the accessibility and usefulness of the Ecosystem Services (ES) framework to policy analysts. Using a mixed methods approach of document analysis and semi-structured interviews we examine how an ES assessment of the benefits of restoring water to the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) in Australia has been used by government agencies in policy and planning. The ES assessment links changes in water management under the Basin Plan with modelled changes in water quality, river flows and inundation patterns and in turn to modelled freshwater and estuarine ecosystem response. These ecological responses were expressed in terms of incremental ES benefits which were valued monetarily using a variety of valuation techniques. To investigate how these pieces of information were used in the policy debate around the re-allocation of water in the MDB, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 Australian, State, and local government officials as well as academics and consultants. The interviews were designed to uncover the complex information dissemination process through networks within and among agencies. The results are mixed as to whether the assessment served to influence public policy. The report has been utilized and cited by Australian federal agencies, the downstream State of South Australia and conservation-based NGOs in their position statements and as such has been used as evidence in support of re-allocation of water in the MDB. A number of interview participants commented that the ES assessment raised awareness and this may lead to broader usage of the information and framework in the implementation phase of MDB water reform.


Policy Science-policy interface Water re-allocation Environmental benefits Ecosystem service assessment 



This research was funded by the Water for Healthy Country Flagship. The authors would like to acknowledge the generosity of the participants in terms of insights and time taken as part of this research. We like to acknowledge the insights from the collegial internal review process. The views expressed in this paper represent a summary by the authors made during interviews. Interpretations of notes in this paper are strictly the views of the authors. We would also like to thank the editor for this special edition and two anonymous reviewers for their insights and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Darla Hatton MacDonald
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Rosalind H. Bark
    • 3
  • Anthea Coggan
    • 3
  1. 1.CSIRO Ecosystem SciencesGlen OsmondAustralia
  2. 2.School of Accounting and FinanceCharles Sturt UniversityBathurstAustralia
  3. 3.CSIRO Ecosystem SciencesDutton ParkAustralia

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