How natural capital delivers ecosystem services: A typology derived from a systematic review

29-06-2017 | Publication

To help decision-makers understand the links between natural capital and ecosystem services (i.e. nature’s contribution to people) a simple typology was developed showing how attributes of natural capital deliver bundles of ecosystem services.

Understanding on how natural capital influences the capacity of ecosystems to supply services is lacking. This knowledge, however, is critical to support decision-making on sustainable management of natural resources and to design ecosystem management strategies that are compatible with the goals of biodiversity conservation.

Literature review

21 researchers from various research institutes systematically reviewed 780 papers, recording how natural capital attributes (e.g. amount of vegetation cover, presence of suitable habitat to support certain species that provide a service) affect the delivery of 13 ecosystem services (e.g. pollination, air quality regulation, recreation).

The literature review is dominated by evidences on the positive influence of natural capital attributes on ecosystem services (78%), with few examples of negative influences (9%), 7% show both positive and negative impacts, and for 11% the direction of influence is unclear. A typology based on this evidence defines five groups of attributes that support specific bundles of services:

  • 1) the physical amount of vegetation cover
  • 2) presence of suitable habitat to support specific species or functional groups that provide a service
  • 3) the characteristics of particular species or functional groups
  • 4) physical and biological diversity
  • 5) abiotic factors.

Interactions between services

The study also identified positive and negative interactions between services, presented in network diagrams. These insights can be used to identify trade-offs and synergies between ecosystem services, and help to find suitable management actions.

Biophysical diversity

Moreover, the review provides evidence on the value of physical and biological diversity both in enhancing short-term performance and underpinning the long-term resilience of ecosystem services to environmental change. This provides additional motivation to conserve ecosystems that simultaneously deliver services for people and habitat for wildlife.

This article is a result of the EU-Openness project.


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