Exploring Ecosystem Services


Project start: March 2009
Project end: March 2010
Project leader: Pieter van Beukering (beukering@ivm.vu.nl)

flagshipEcosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. The concept of ecosystem services has received significant attention since the appearance of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Despite the important contribution that ecosystem services make to human welfare, many ecosystems are under threat and continue to be degraded by human activities. This can in part be explained by the fact that ecosystem services generally have the characteristics of “public goods”, in that they are freely accessible to everyone. As a result, private incentives to maintain ecosystem services do not reflect their full value to society and they often face pressure from more marketable resource uses.

There is a strong need to identify, quantify, and value ecosystem services to support decision-making regarding the conservation of such services. A growing body of knowledge is developing on approaches to properly estimate the value of the ecosystem services. This knowledge base takes place in various dimensions of ecosystem services (i.e. economic, ecological, socio-political and spatial). Besides developing more indebt knowledge of these individual dimensions, one of the main challenges of the science of ecosystem services is to improve the integration between them. Not only can the integration of these four dimensions lead to new academic insights in the field of ecosystem services, it may also provide a more comprehensive framework for resource managers to make better informed policy decisions. IVM initiated a Flagship study aimed at developing an integrated analytical framework for evaluating ecosystem services simultaneously taking into account ecological, spatial, economic and socio-political aspects.


This integrated analytical framework for ecosystem services is intended to:

  •  Demonstrate the strength of an integrated approach in evaluating ecosystem services as opposed following a mono-disciplinary manner (while also identifying the limitations of integration);

  • Exhibit the expertise of IVM as a leading institute in analysing ecosystem services in an integrated manner;

  • Supply an ideal vehicle for scientific collaboration between researchers from different IVM departments and produce outputs that also serve educational purposes (i.e. ERM, FALW);

  • Organise a workshop on ecosystem service assessment in the Netherlands. Prospective participants include:

  1. Other Dutch experts such as the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment (MER), and the Coperninus Institute of Utrecht University; and

  2. Potentially interested audiences such as relevant Dutch ministries (i.e. VROM, LNV, EZ, DGIS) and conservation organisations (e.g. WWF, IUCN, TNC).

Interdisciplinary approach

As mentioned, the project aims at integrating four disciplines.

First, the ecological dimension of ecosystem services aims at systematically answering the questions of “what (part of the system), how (which underlying mechanisms) and where (does it operate)”. Moreover, it also addresses more conditional questions such as what is a sufficient size for an ecosystem to be effective in providing services?

Second, the spatial dimension comprises elements of all three other dimensions and provides tools for the analysis and presentation of them: ecology (What is the optimal size of the ecosystem?), economic (Which areas are most valuable as services providers?), and institutional (Where are the relevant stakeholders, suppliers and beneficiaries of the services?).


Third, the economic dimension of ecosystem services aims at putting a monetary value on environmental and social impacts thereby increasing the profile of these effects and allowing them to be taken into account in cost-benefit analysis decision-making. Questions addressed include: How do economists interpret ecosystem services, and how and why they attach economic value these services? Can we consider ecosystem services as economic commodities, and if so, under what circumstances can these services be traded on a market (i.e. payments for environmental services)? How can we use economic values of ecosystem services to better manage the environment, and what are effective ways of communicating these values?
Finally, the socio-political dimension of ecosystem services mainly addresses the following questions: What kind of governance mechanisms can be implemented to manage ecosystem services provision? How can such governance mechanisms be structured at different levels? Under what conditions are such governance mechanisms successful?

Activities & deliverables

flag3The project will initiate a number of activities that allow the involved researchers to actively exchange ideas so that meaningful integration will be realised. These involve:

To identify the main challenges in the field of ecosystem services, a literature review is conducted with special attention for issues that concern integration. Combining the outcomes of the literature review with existing knowledge, a conceptual integrated framework is designed.

To further develop and apply this integrated framework for ecosystem services, a case study in Suriname has been selected. After all, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. More information on this case study will follow soon.

Jointly with the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) and Copernicus Institute of Utrecht University, a national workshop will be organised in which high-level officials of four Dutch ministries will participate. This workshop is intended to disseminate the findings of the study as well as to generate public support among Dutch policy makers for an integrated ecosystem services approach. A joint large scale research proposal should result the workshop.

Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)
Copernicus Institute

The combination of the desk study and the case study serve as ideal course material for the curricula at the VU University, such as the Environment Resource Management (ERM) master course and the Specialisation Earth and Economics.

Environment Resource Management (ERM)
Earth and Economics

Involved researchers

The project will involve researchers from various departments of IVM. The project will be coordinated by Pieter van Beukering, who will also participate in the economic research together with Luke Brander and Marije Schaafsma. The ecologists involved are Jan Vermaat and Alison Gilbert. The spatial analysis experts are Alfred Wagtendonk and Nancy Omtzigt. The policy/institutional experts participating are Eleftheria Vasileiadou and Jetske Bouma. The field  contact with the Suriname case study is Mathilde Molendijk.

Previous IVM experience

IVM  has a longstanding reputation in assessing the importance and value of ecosystem services, covering various environmental domains. Some examples of the most recent experiences include:

Forest services:

2009: “Keeping the Amazon Standing: A matter of Values” for the World Wildlife Foundation – WWF, (The Netherlands)

2009: “Reduced Emission from Deforestation in the Southern Cardamom Ecosystem, Cambodia” for Wildlife Alliance (Cambodia)

2008: “The economic value of peatland resources within the Central Kalimantan Peatland Project in Indonesia: Perceptions of local communities” for Wetlands International (The Netherlands)

2007: “Optimization of the charcoal chain in Tanzania” for the PREM programme and the World Bank – Tanzania Country Office

Coral reef services:

2009: “The Economic Impact of Ocean Acidification on Coral Reefs” in collaboration with Kiel Institute for the World Economy (Germany) and the Economic and Social Research Institute – ESRI (Ireland)

2007: “The recreational value of coral reefs: a meta-analysis” for the VU University, Amsterdam

2007: “Nature’s Investment Bank: How Marine Protected Areas Contribute to Poverty Reduction” for The Nature Conservancy – TNC (United States)

Small islands ecosystem services:

2008: “Value after the Volcano: Economic valuation of Montserrat’s Centre Hills” for the Royal Society of Birds Protection – RSPB (United Kingdom);

2007: “Valuing the Environment in Small Islands - An Environmental Economics Toolkit” for the Joint Nature Conservation Council – JNCC (United Kingdom)

2007: “The Economic Value of the Coral Reefs of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands” for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA (United States)
Biodiversity services:

Biodiversity services:

2009: “Creating a market for biodiversity in the Southern Coastal Cardamoms of Cambodia” for Wildlife Alliance – Cambodia

2008: “The Economics of the protection of migratory birds” for Wetlands International and BirdLife International in the Netherlands (second paper)

2006: “Human-elephant conflict and poverty in Sri Lanka” for the PREM programme and for the Sri Lankan government

Wetlands services:

2006: “The role of mangroves in mitigating storm damage in Thailand” in collaboration with Coastal Resources Institute, Prince of Songkla University (Thailand).

2005: “The temporal stability and transferability of models of willingness to pay for flood control and wetland conservation” in collaboration with University of East Anglia – UEA (United Kingdom)

2004: “Spatial Ecological-Economic Analysis for Wetland Management” in collaboration with the Faculty of Geography at Utrecht University

2003: “The Empirics of Wetland Valuation: A Comprehensive Summary and Meta-analysis of the Literature” as part of the DINAS-COAST programme for the European Union

Water services:

2009: “AquaMoney: develop and test practical guidelines for the assessment of environmental and resource costs and benefits (ERCB) in the European Water Framework Directive (WFD)” for the for the European Union – EU

2008: “Economic valuation of flood risk exposure and reduction in a severely flood prone developing country” for the PREM programme

2007: “Non-market valuation of water quality in a rural transition economy in Turkey applying an a-posteriori bid design” for the European Union – EU

2006: “The stability of contingent values and models for health risks when facing an extreme event”

Marine ecosystem services:

2007: “European Lifestyles and Marine Ecosystems (ELME) project” is an EU Sixth Framework Programme

2004: “European Land Ocean Interaction Studies” is a thematic network instigated by the Commission of the European Union