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What can conservation strategies learn from the ecosystem services approach? Insights from ecosystem assessments in two Spanish protected areas


Biodiversity conservation strategies that overlook the interests of local people are prone to create conflicts. The ecosystem service approach holds potential for more comprehensively integrating the social dimension into decision-making in protected areas, but its implementation in conservation policies is still in its infancy. This research assesses the extent to which ecosystem services have been implemented in conservation strategies in protected areas. The study was conducted in two outstanding Spanish protected areas, covering a wetland (Doñana Natural and National Parks) and a Mediterranean mountain system (Sierra Nevada Natural and National Parks). Data were collected from deliberative workshops with managers and researchers, face-to-face surveys with users and a review of management plans. We found that, beyond intrinsic values of ecosystems and biodiversity, these areas provide multiple ecosystem services that deserve further attention to ensure their sustained delivery. Our research shows that environmental managers and researchers have different perceptions and priorities regarding ecosystem services management compared with ecosystem service users. Environmental managers and researchers in both protected areas perceived that human-nature relationships and ecosystem services are already widely included in management plans, if often not explicitly. We found that different ecosystem service categories receive uneven attention in management plans. These contained measures to manage provisioning and cultural services whereas measures for managing regulating services were perceived to be largely absent. We conclude by summarizing insights on how the ecosystem service approach may enhance the consideration of social interests in the management of management protected areas.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge the Sierra Nevada National and Natural Park staff and the Department of Environment of the Andalusian Government staff and researchers for attending the workshops conducted, we also thank respondents who kindly answered the survey. Funding for the development of this research was provided by a postdoctoral grant from the Spanish National Institute for Agriculture and Food Research and Technology (INIA) which is co-funded by the European Social Fund, a Juan de la Cierva Grant from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment (Project 018/2009), the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (project CGL2011-30266), the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission (FP7, 2007–2013) under the BESAFE project (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: Arguments for our Future Environment; http://www.besafe-project.net; Contract No. 282743) and the OpenNESS Project (Operationalisation of Natural capital and Ecosystem Services: From concepts to real-world applications; Contract No. 308428).

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Correspondence to Marina García-Llorente.

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This is part of the special issue on ‘BESAFE’.

Communicated by Rob Bugter, Paula Harrison, John Haslett and Rob Tinch.

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García-Llorente, M., Harrison, P.A., Berry, P. et al. What can conservation strategies learn from the ecosystem services approach? Insights from ecosystem assessments in two Spanish protected areas. Biodivers Conserv 27, 1575–1597 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-016-1152-4

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  • Deliberative workshop
  • Document analysis
  • Management plan
  • National Park
  • Natural Park
  • Perception