• Open Access

Ecosystem Services as a Contested Concept: a Synthesis of Critique and Counter-Arguments

Authors

  • Matthias Schröter,

    Corresponding author
    1. Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
    2. Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Oslo Centre for Interdisciplinary Environmental and Social Research (CIENS), Oslo, Norway
    • Correspondence

      Matthias Schröter, Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands. Tel: +31 (0) 317-48 57 30; fax: +31 (0) 317-41 90 00. E-mail: matthias.schroter@wur.nl

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  • Emma H. van der Zanden,

    1. Institute for Environmental Studies, Amsterdam Global Change Institute, VU University Amsterdam, HVAmsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Alexander P.E. van Oudenhoven,

    1. Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
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  • Roy P. Remme,

    1. Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
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  • Hector M. Serna-Chavez,

    1. Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, GE Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Rudolf S. de Groot,

    1. Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
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  • Paul Opdam

    1. Land Use Planning Group, Wageningen University, PB Wageningen, The Netherlands
    2. ALTERRA, Nature and Society group, PB Wageningen, The Netherlands
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  • EditorAndrew Rosenberg

Abstract

We describe and reflect on seven recurring critiques of the concept of ecosystem services and respective counter-arguments. First, the concept is criticized for being anthropocentric, whereas others argue that it goes beyond instrumental values. Second, some argue that the concept promotes an exploitative human–nature relationship, whereas others state that it reconnects society to ecosystems, emphasizing humanity's dependence on nature. Third, concerns exist that the concept may conflict with biodiversity conservation objectives, whereas others emphasize complementarity. Fourth, the concept is questioned because of its supposed focus on economic valuation, whereas others argue that ecosystem services science includes many values. Fifth, the concept is criticized for promoting commodification of nature, whereas others point out that most ecosystem services are not connected to market-based instruments. Sixth, vagueness of definitions and classifications are stated to be a weakness, whereas others argue that vagueness enhances transdisciplinary collaboration. Seventh, some criticize the normative nature of the concept, implying that all outcomes of ecosystem processes are desirable. The normative nature is indeed typical for the concept, but should not be problematic when acknowledged. By disentangling and contrasting different arguments we hope to contribute to a more structured debate between opponents and proponents of the ecosystem services concept.

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