Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Taylor H. Ricketts


Nature supports human well-being and sustainable development through the provision of ecosystem services (ES). While ES have been mapped, modeled, and valued with multiple methods by a wide range of disciplines, understanding the distribution of ES benefits among individuals and groups within society remains a critical gap. Addressing this gap is essential for making conservation and environmental policy-making more equitable. In this dissertation, I present four studies that evaluate the distribution of ES among demographic and socioeconomic groups under a range of land use and climate change scenarios.

In my first chapter, I project changes in the supply, demand, and benefits of four ES in the conterminous US between 2020 and 2100. I find that ES benefits in the US will not only decline over the next 80 years, but that those declines will most severely affect already marginalized communities. In my second chapter, I develop a novel framework for assessing the distribution of flood risk among property owners across the Lake Champlain Basin under floodplain restoration and climate change scenarios. Similarly, I show that those who are most vulnerable to flooding – mobile home owners and lower-value property owners – are disproportionately exposed to its risks. In my third chapter, I build on this framework by optimizing investments in floodplain restoration to mitigate flood damages at the lowest cost, with explicit consideration of how the utility of avoided damages may differ for households of varying income. In my final chapter, I quantify the social benefits and costs of improving water quality in Lake Champlain under a range of nutrient reduction and climate change scenarios. Under no scenario do the combined benefits exceed the costs, and in general, groups who benefit from improvements to water quality are distinct from those who bear the costs.

Together, these four chapters present broad evidence that ES are unevenly distributed across socioeconomic and demographic groups, and that marginalized and socially vulnerable populations often bear the burden of declines in ES benefits. Given the potential for ES to mediate inequality, it is critical that stakeholders, researchers, and decision-makers carefully consider how land use and climate change may alter the distribution of ES benefits. Despite the many challenges to incorporating equity into environmental decision-making, this dissertation also highlights several opportunities for conservation and land use policy to create more just outcomes.



Number of Pages

233 p.