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Offsetting impacts of development on biodiversity and ecosystem services

  • Laura J. SonterEmail author
  • Ascelin Gordon
  • Carla Archibald
  • Jeremy S. Simmonds
  • Michelle Ward
  • Jean Paul Metzger
  • Jonathan R. Rhodes
  • Martine Maron


Offsetting—trading losses in one place for commensurate gains in another—is a tool used to mitigate environmental impacts of development. Biodiversity and carbon are the most widely used targets of offsets; however, other ecosystem services are increasingly traded, introducing new risks to the environment and people. Here, we provide guidance on how to “trade with minimal trade-offs”— i.e. how to offset impacts on biodiversity without negatively affecting ecosystem services and vice versa. We briefly survey the literature on offsetting biodiversity, carbon and other ecosystem services, revealing that each subfield addresses unique issues (often overlooking those raised by others) and rarely assesses potential trade-offs. We discuss key differences between offsets that trade biodiversity and those that trade ecosystem services, conceptualise links between these different targets in an offsetting context and describe three broad approaches to manage potential trade-offs. We conclude by proposing a research agenda to strengthen the outcomes of offsetting policies that are emerging internationally.


Biodiversity Ecosystem services Mitigation hierarchy Offsetting Trade-offs 



This work was undertaken during a workshop on “linking landscape structure to ecosystem services”, supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP; n. 2017/50015-5), University of Queensland (UQ; Sprint 4/2016) and ARC Centre for Excellence in Environmental Decisions (CEED). LJS was supported by an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DE170100684). M.M. is supported by ARC Future Fellowship FT140100516.

Author contributions

All authors designed the research and wrote the manuscript. CA, JSS and MW conducted the literature survey.

Supplementary material

13280_2019_1245_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (154 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 153 kb)
13280_2019_1245_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (868 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 868 kb)


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation ScienceThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  3. 3.School of Global Urban and Social StudiesRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.Laboratório de Ecologia da Paisagem e Conservação, Departamento de Ecologia, Instituto de BiociênciasUniversidade de São PauloSão PauloBrazil

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