EDITORIAL: Ecological science for ecosystem services and the stewardship of Natural Capital


Correspondence author. E-mail: rha@ceh.ac.uk


  1. National and international assessments are increasingly highlighting the unsustainable use of earth's natural resources in the face of population increase, growing material affluence and global change. In all likelihood, the use and degradation of natural resources will continue.
  2. In contrast to resource depletion, the concept of natural capital emphasises how the environment is an asset to be managed, to ensure that the benefits which flow from it are sustained for future generations. These benefits are the ecosystem goods and services upon which all people rely for their continued survival and well-being both now and, ideally, in perpetuity.
  3. Despite their importance, the evidence-base and quantitative understanding of links between biodiversity, ecosystem function and ecosystem services are insufficient to allow informed use and management. Moreover, the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services are insufficiently mainstream to influence decisions that currently favour the production of food and fibre rather than less tangible services such as climate regulation, air and water purification, pollination or the contributions of environment to health.
  4. There are specific challenges to ecological science in this interdisciplinary endeavour: specifically, to develop frameworks for identifying and monitoring natural capital; to parameterise factors affecting ecosystem services and their resilience to change; to integrate the complexity of ecological systems into ecosystem service valuation; and to characterise the synergies and trade-offs between ecosystem services in different management and policy scenarios.
  5. Synthesis and applications. The five papers in this Special Profile exemplify just some of the leading work through which ecologists in the UK are contributing nationally and internationally to these needs, stemming from the UK National Ecosystem Assessment - the first national scale exercise of its type in the world. We expect a major, worldwide increase in work on ecosystem services and natural capital in future as decisions on ecosystem use of management are squeezed increasingly between the needs of exploitation and protection.