New perspectives in ecosystem services science as instruments to understand environmental securities

Ferdinando Villa, Ikerbasque, the Basque Foundation for Science
Brian Voigt, University of Vermont
Jon D. Erickson, University of Vermont


As societal demand for food, water and other life-sustaining resources grows, the science of ecosystem services (ES) is seen as a promising tool to improve our understanding, and ultimately the management, of increasingly uncertain supplies of critical goods provided or supported by natural ecosystems. This promise, however, is tempered by a relatively primitive understanding of the complex systems supporting ES, which as a result are often quantified as static resources rather than as the dynamic expression of human-natural systems. This article attempts to pinpoint the minimum level of detail that ES science needs to achieve in order to usefully inform the debate on environmental securities, and discusses both the state of the art and recent methodological developments in ES in this light. We briefly review the field of ES accounting methods and list some desiderata that we deem necessary, reachable and relevant to address environmental securities through an improved science of ES. We then discuss a methodological innovation that, while only addressing these needs partially, can improve our understanding of ES dynamics in data-scarce situations. The methodology is illustrated and discussed through an application related to water security in the semi-arid landscape of the Great Ruaha river of Tanzania. © 2014 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.