Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Boumans, Roelof


The importance and contribution of healthy ecosystems to human well-being and poverty reduction have gained increasing awareness and attention in recent years. Despite this wide-scale acknowledgement, the majority of the benefits yielded by ecosystem services are currently exogenous to the economic system, so their value is not equally weighted in decisions that directly impact their functioning and welfare. Public understanding of the importance of these contributions and the necessity of healthy ecosystems and sound management is vital for their conservation. However, thorough understanding of what ecosystems are, how they function, and how to manage them on a systems-based level for sustainability, known as ecological literacy (ecoliteracy), is lacking in various publics. In fact, at the nexus of the complex environmental problems facing the world today is the lack of understanding of the impact of individual and aggregate actions, particularly on ecosystems. The emerging field of ecological economics seeks to reconcile the roots for this disconnect. By developing new methods of ecosystem management that simultaneously address complex economic, social and environmental needs, ecological economics seeks to develop a comprehensive, systems-based approach to engender global sustainability. Ecolitercy is a critical component to developing new methods in development and management. This dissertation research examines and applies several ecological economic tools – rapid assessment valuation, payments for ecosystem services and service-learning education – to determine how to best promote ecoliteracy and ecosystem management on individual and collective levels. There are several findings that highlight the importance of and areas of improvement for integrating such tools in a comprehensive sustainable development approach. (1) Ecosystem services valuation, which assigns economic values to the benefits humans derive from natural environments, is a framework that can provide vital insight into the ecological costs of large-scale development projects. It can also be used as a way to incorporate local/traditional knowledge into decision-making. (2) Payments for ecosystem services programs, while effective in conserving and regenerating forests in developing countries, still have significant areas of improvement to be considered for similar future projects. Particularly, it has not been demonstrated that they are effective mechanisms for poverty alleviation, as it has been suggested in the literature. In fact, if not meaningfully supported, poor participants may face serious trade-offs and their involvement in such programs may negatively affect social capital in the community. (3) Service-learning, or working with communities to address real world-problems through a rigorous academic framework, is more effective at developing critical, ecological and civic literacy in students and develop more knowledgeable agents to solve the world‘s complex problems. Overall, these new and other tools must be developed to specifically address the ecological illiteracy that so often guides development decisions and be integrated into a comprehensive, inclusive framework for sustainable development.